California & USA: Pregnancy Discrimination At Work

March 15, 2005

Federal law in the United States preempts State law such as in California. Our firm of Law Office of Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation, LLP would be pleased to offer you a complimentary consultation and, if we cannot assist you, we will refer you to the San Diego County Bar Association Laywer Referral Service. Please feel free to e mail or call.

In 1978, Congress amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include a more specific prohibition on pregnancy-related discrimination. Ever since then, it has been unlawful for employers having 15 or more employees to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.

The most clear-cut forms of pregnancy discrimination occur when an employer refuses to hire an applicant because she is pregnant or fires an existing employee because she becomes pregnant. But there are more subtle, but no less prohibited, forms of pregnancy discrimination, such as in the areas of accrual and crediting of seniority, compensation, leave from work, health insurance, and other fringe benefits. Although pregnancy is in many ways a unique condition, a rule of thumb for employers is that they may not treat pregnant employees adversely as compared with employees having comparable temporary medical conditions.

If, because of her pregnancy, an employee is temporarily unable to work, she must be treated like any other temporarily disabled employee. This standard does not render an employer powerless to require anything of the employee, but the approach must be even-handed. For example, if the employer normally requires a doctor's statement verifying an inability to work, the same can be required of a pregnant employee.

If the employer has a policy allowing temporarily disabled workers to ease back into work with modified tasks or different assignments, similar flexibility must be shown to the pregnant worker. If an employer generally holds open a job for a certain period of time for someone out on sick leave or disability leave, a pregnant employee is entitled to such treatment, no more or less.

Ironclad rules are more likely to expose companies to liability under the federal discrimination law. A rule requiring a pregnant employee on leave to stay on leave until the baby is born, regardless of whether she may have recovered from the condition related to the pregnancy, invites a lawsuit. Employers also cannot have a policy that prohibits an employee from returning to work for a predetermined time period after giving birth.

Encinitas: San Diego Real Estate Roundup: Handicapped-Accessible Apartments

March 1, 2005

Our law firm of Law Office of Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation, LLP is committed to handicap access. At our office location at the Clock Tower in San Diego, California, there are clearly designated handicapped parking spaces and elevator access from the street level to our office. Our office is also accessible by wheel chair and we have many clients who are physically disabled.

In its role as enforcer of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the U.S. Department of Justice sued the developer of, and architects for, two apartment complexes. The government won an injunction against any further construction and occupancy of the apartment buildings.

Among the detailed requirements in the FHA for accessibility for the disabled is a requirement that "common areas" for multifamily dwellings be readily accessible to and usable by handicapped persons. In the case under consideration, the focus was on the landing area shared by two ground-floor apartments in each complex. The front door for each of the apartments was located there, but it was not handicapped accessible because the landing could only be reached by descending stairs. The apartments also had a rear entrance from the apartments' patios that was handicapped accessible, but it was located farther from the parking lot.

The defendants argued that the FHA only requires that there be at least one accessible route into and out of each apartment, and that the patio entrance for each ground-floor unit met that requirement. The federal court disagreed. All it took to make the landing area a "common area" was that it was shared by at least two units, and that was so in the case before the court. It was beside the point that there was a separate, back-door access for the disabled. The FHA clearly mandates that the common area, which in this case was at the front-door entrance to the apartments, be handicapped accessible.

The court indicated that the public's strong interest in eradicating housing discrimination against the disabled outweighed the developer's plea that the injunction translated into substantial financial losses each month. The government also pointed out that the developer chose to proceed at its own peril with construction and leasing after being warned that the design violated the FHA. This case offers an object lesson in the importance of being in compliance with FHA requirements before breaking ground on a construction project.