Company Refused to Provide Light Duty to Pregnant Worker, Federal Agency Charged
SEATTLE - Geriatric care giant Life Care Centers of America, Inc. and its affiliate, South Hill Operations, LLC, doing business as "Life Care Center of South Hill," will pay $170,000 to a former employee to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
The employee worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) for Life Care Centers in Puyallup, Washington. According to the EEOC's suit, Life Care refused to accommodate her request not to lift anything heavier than 15lbs. for the last part of her pregnancy. Stating that Life Care only provided light duty to employees injured on the job, the company placed her on involuntary, unpaid leave. The EEOC also alleged Life Care supervisors told her to reapply for a CNA job once she was ready to return to unrestricted duty, which she understood to mean that she was fired.
Denying light duty to a pregnant employee while providing it to similarly-abled non-pregnant employees may violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (Title VII) and The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Life Care Centers of America, Inc. and South Hill Operations LLC d/b/a Life Care Center of South Hill in Puyallup, No. 2:18-cv-01411-RAJ) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement with Life Care through conciliation.
Under the three-year consent decree, Life Care agrees to pay the employee $170,000 in lost wages and compensatory damages and provide training on Title VII and the PDA to all employees, including management and supervisors at its Washington state facilities, and human resources staff that advise them.
"An employer may not reject an employee's request for pregnancy-related work restrictions if the same employer is granting the light duty request of a non-pregnant employee," said Nancy Sienko, director of the EEOC's Seattle Field Office. "This suit serves to remind employers of that obligation."
"One of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) is to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including accommodating pregnancy-related limitations," noted EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney John Stanley. "We are encouraged that Life Care will take affirmative steps to implement policies and training that ensure employees with pregnancy-related work restrictions have their light duty requests properly considered."
According to company information, Life Care Centers is a nationwide network of over 236 geriatric health care service providers with operations in over 35 states, and had over $10.3 million in net sales in 2015, the year in which the employee last worked for the co-defendants in Puyallup.