Federal Court Rules that pregnancy - alone - is not a disability

A Federal Court has ruled that an employee cannot sue under federal law for discrimination based on her pregnancy, because pregnancy alone isn't a “disability” under the law.

In Arozarena v. Carpenter Co., 2018 BL 184934, E.D. Pa., No. 5:17-cv-05457, Plaintiff Gina Arozarena filed a Complaint against her former employer, Defendant Carpenter Co., alleging that it discriminated against her on the basis of her pregnancy and on the basis of her disability when it terminated her employment in June 2016. Carpenter Co. filed a partial Motion to Dismiss with respect to Arozarena's disability discrimination claims, contending that Arozareba failed to allege that she was disabled.

Background

Arozarena alleged that in May 2015 she was hired by Carpenter Co. as a machine operator. In November 2015 she notified Carpenter Co. that she was pregnant, after which she became the target of disparaging behavior from her manager, Chris Huntsinger.  Subsequently, Arozarena began to have complications with her pregnancy and in the last two months of her pregnancy found herself having to see her doctor twice a week to be monitored. She explained this to Huntsinger and to Judy Barrett, Carpenter Co.'s human resources representative, and provided them with all of her doctor's notes. On June 4, 2016, Carpenter Co. terminated her employment, stating that the termination was based on her excessive absences. Arozarena alleged that Carpenter Co.'s primary motivation for terminating her was that she was pregnant and that she missed work due to her pregnancy. 

On the basis of these allegations, Arozarena asserted, that Carpenter Co. discriminated against her on the basis of her pregnancy, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17 . Under Count II of the Complaint, Arozarena asserted that Carpenter Co. discriminated against her on the basis of her disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-213.  In response to Arozarena's Complaint, Carpenter Co. filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss with respect to Arozarena's disability discrimination claims contending that Azorarena failed to allege that she was disabled.

Analysis

Carpenter Co. argued that Arozarena failed to allege that she was disabled, which is a necessary element of a disability discrimination claim. Carpenter Co. argued that it is well settled that pregnancy, in itself, is not a disability under the ADA. Further, with respect to Arozarena's allegation that she had "complications with her pregnancy," Carpenter Co. contended that was nothing more than a conclusory assertion that failed to specify what complications Arozarena allegedly experienced.

Arozarena responded that courts have found that complications arising out of pregnancy can constitute a disability, and that whether such complications actually rise to the level of disability is a question of fact. Further, she contended that her allegation that she had to see her doctor twice a week as a result of her pregnancy-related complications sufficed to allege the existence of a disability. 

The ADA defines "disability" as either (1) "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;" (2) "a record of such an impairment;" or (3) "being regarded as having such an impairment." 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1) . "Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working." 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A) . The determination of whether an individual is substantially limited in a major life activity must be made 'on a case-by-case basis.'"Matthews v. Pennsylvania Dep't of Corr., 613 F. App'x 163 , 167 (3d Cir. 2015) (quoting Albertson's Inc. v. Kirkingburg [*3] , 527 U.S. 555 , 566 , 119 S. Ct. 2162 , 144 L. Ed. 2d 518(1999)). "What matters is not the name or diagnosis of the impairment but 'the effect of the impairment on the life of the individual.'" Id.

As both parties acknowledged, pregnancy itself is not a disability, but a number of courts have found that pregnancy complications can constitute a disability. See Oliver v. Scranton Materials, Inc., No. 3:14-CV-00549, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27121 , [2015 BL 59643], 2015 WL 1003981 , at *7 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 5, 2015) (collecting cases). But a plaintiff must do more than simply "recite, in talismanic fashion, that some "pregnancy complications" occurred in order to allege a disability. See id. Here, Arozarena alleged only that she began to have complications with her pregnancy and in the last two months of her pregnancy found herself having to see her doctor twice a week to be monitored.  As Carpenter Co. pointed out, Arozarena didnot specify what complications she experienced, nor did she indicate how those complications substantially limited one or more major life activities. Accordingly, Arozareana's Complaint failed to allege sufficient facts to support her claim that she had a "disability" under the ADA.

Accordingly, Carpenter Co.'s partial Motion to Dismiss was granted. But the dismissal was without prejudice.  The Court did not believe that allowing another amendment would be futile or inequitable, and Arozarena was granted leave to amend her Complaint to cure the deficiencies outlined.

 

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