Eleventh Circuit Recognizes Pregnancy Complications as ADA Disability, but Says Employer Does Not Have to Waive Mandatory Overtime

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The Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act significantly broadened the definition of protected disabled individuals under federal antidiscrimination law. In subsequent rules implementing ADAAA, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated that pregnancy complications can fall under this expanded disability definition. Last month in an unpublished decision, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with this disability classification, but concluded that the plaintiff was not qualified to perform her job.

In Agee v. Mercedes-Benz U.S. Int’l, Inc., the plaintiff’s doctor restricted her to no more than 40 hours of work per week due to her pregnancy. She alleged that Mercedes failed to accommodate her under the ADA and Pregnancy Discrimination Act by refusing to waive its requirement that employees work overtime. The Eleventh Circuit agreed that the plaintiff fell under the ADA’s definition of disability, but also determined that she was not qualified to perform the essential job function of working overtime. Mercedes demonstrated that such flexibility is an integral part of its production process.

In last year’s Young decision, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that employers that offer light duty programs can only exclude pregnant employees from participation in limited circumstances. If pregnancy complications are routinely recognized as ADA disabilities, this would create accommodation obligations for employers that do not offer light duty to anyone. Such accommodations could take the form of leave, modified work schedules or even temporary transfer to other vacant positions. This decision points out the need for employers to analyze pregnancy accommodation requests under multiple laws in order to assure compliance.

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