A company’s termination of a female worker’s employment for missing work in violation of an attendance policy is illegal discrimination if the termination decision is sufficiently related to the woman’s exercise of her right to an abortion. On May 30, 2008, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Jane Doe v. C.A.R.S. Protection Plus, Inc., and held that:
Clearly, the plain language of the [Pregnancy Discrimination Act], together with the legislative history, and the EEOC guidelines, support a conclusion that an employer may not discriminate against a woman employee because she has exercised her right to have an abortion. We now hold that the [PDA’s] term “related medical conditions” includes an abortion.
The Third Circuit reversed a district court’s decision, which granted summary judgment in favor of a company that operated a business insuring used cars. The Third Circuit found that there were issues of fact that must be resolved by a jury, not a judge.
The decision also noted the following items unique to a pregnancy discrimination case:
- There are three elements to a prima facie case of pregnancy discrimination to be proven by an employee:
- She is or was pregnant and her employer knew she was pregnant
- She was qualified for her job;
- She suffered an adverse employment action; and
- A nexus exists between the pregnancy and the adverse employment action that suggests unlawful discrimination.
The legal analysis for pregnancy discrimination claims follows the rubric set forth for Title VII discrimination claims. Set forth below is a brief overview of the analysis as discussed in Jane Doe v. C.A.R.S. Protection Plus, Inc.
Employee’s Prima Facie Case:
- A nexus can be demonstrated by showing that the pregnant employee was treated less favorably that similarly situated non-pregnant employees. Anemployer’s more favorable treatment of temporarily disabled non-pregnant workers raises an inference of discrimination.
- A discriminatory motive can be demonstrated by remarks by a company decision maker critical of pregnancy or abortion and by the temporal proximity between the abortion and the employee’s separation from employment.
Employer’s Burden of Production:
- An employer may defend a discrimination claim by producinga legitimate nondiscriminatory business reason for an employee’s termination. For example, in Jane Doe v. C.A.R.S. Protection Plus, Inc., the employer’s justification for the employee’s termination was job abandonment for failing to call in under its absenteeism policy.
Employee’s Burden to Prove Pretext:
- The employee must then show the justification is a mere pretext for discrimination by evidence that either casts doubt upon the employer’s reason as fabricated or shows that discrimination was the employer’s true motivation. The evidence of record in Jane Doe v. C.A.R.S. Protection Plus, Inc., created a material issue of fact regarding whether C.A.R.S.’s legitimate nondiscriminatory reason was pretextual.
Social views aside, it appears that in the Third Circuit an abortion is now a recognized activity, covered under the PDA, for which an employee cannot be treated differently in the terms and conditions of her employment. Irrespective of an employer’s social views, employers must now recognize the differing treatment of employees who have undergone an abortion presents the possibility for claims under the PDA, and most likely the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.