ACLU Wins Appeal in Pregnant Workers’ Rights Case
MONTGOMERY, AL — The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Alabama, and Birmingham attorney Heather Leonard won a federal court appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit today in a pregnancy discrimination case, Durham v. Rural/Metro Corporation. The appeal was filed on behalf of client Michelle Durham, who was forced out of her job as an emergency medical technician (EMT) after being denied a temporary job accommodation due to her pregnancy.
Michelle had been working as an EMT for Rural/Metro for five months when she learned she was pregnant in September 2015. Michelle’s doctor imposed a lifting restriction during her pregnancy, but Rural/Metro refused to accommodate that temporary limitation — despite maintaining a policy of providing “light duty” assignments to EMTs injured on the job. Michelle was forced onto unpaid leave six months before her due date. Attorney Heather Leonard represented Durham before an Alabama district court, which dismissed the case in 2018. With the support of the ACLU, ACLU of Alabama and Heather Leonard, Durham appealed. Today, the Eleventh Circuit reversed that decision, and ruled in Durham’s favor.
“This has been a long, uphill battle, but I’m thrilled the court ruled in our favor and is pushing employers to do the right thing,” said plaintiff Michelle Durham. “No one should lose their job for being pregnant, and I hope what happened to me doesn’t happen to others.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found that the district court had misapplied the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which requires that pregnant workers be treated the same as others “similar in their ability or inability to work.” Relying on the Supreme Court’s 2015 landmark decision in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. — which concerned UPS’s refusal to accommodate a pregnant driver’s lifting restriction — the court found Rural/Metro’s policy violated the PDA because the company could not justify the preferential treatment it afforded other EMTs.
“Today’s ruling goes a long way toward assuring that pregnant workers will enjoy the full anti-discrimination protections guaranteed by the law,” said Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “The Pregnancy Discrimination Act outlawed pregnancy discrimination in the workplace more than 40 years ago, but employers — and courts — have chipped away at that promise. Today, the Eleventh Circuit sent a powerful message that the PDA means what it says: pregnant workers must be accommodated on the same terms as other employees.”
“No woman should go through what Michelle Durham did — losing her job just because she decided to start a family,” said attorney Heather Leonard of Birmingham. “We are thrilled that the appeals court agreed that the district court made a mistake, and that Michelle’s case now will get the full consideration it deserves. She has waited for justice long enough.”
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