City Not Required to Accommodate Employee’s Financial Stresses Under the ADA

Kollman & Saucier
Kollman & Saucier

An employee’s potential increased day-care costs are not a pregnancy-related condition requiring accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a federal district judge in Minnesota.  As a result, a city police department was not required to accommodate a request by a pregnant employee for a swapped time-shift.  McCarty v. City of Eagan, No. 0:12-cv-02512 (D. Minn. Apr. 28, 2014).

Brea McCarty worked her way up to the position of clerical technician with the records unit of the Eagan Police Department.  On two previous occasions, in 2008 and 2010, McCarty had requested and been given FMLA leave for her pregnancy and childbirth.  On December 15, 2011, McCarty informed her supervisor that she was pregnant for a third time and explained that it “could not be happening at a worse time for financial reasons.”  (Emphasis added.)  She again discussed taking FMLA leave again, but did not discuss any potential scheduling changes or request any accommodation.  Approximately three weeks later, McCarty proposed a schedule change for the first time, whereby she would move from full-time to part-time, in order to “accommodate the eventual increase in daycare costs,” with one of her co-workers correspondingly shifting from part-time to full-time.  (Emphasis added.)  Once again, she did not raise any medical issues related to her pregnancy.  When she learned five days later that her time-shift request was denied, McCarty threatened to quit, huffing to her supervisor, “you are fucking me over” as she stormed out of the office before the end of her shift.  She was placed on administrative leave and, after being given the appropriate internal hearings, was terminated.

After McCarty sued the city for failing to accommodate her pregnancy, the district court concluded that she did not show she was disabled  and granted summary judgment in the city’s favor.  The court noted that “disability” is defined under the ADA as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual.”  (Emphasis added).  Major life activities, the court explained, included tasks such as “caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, thinking and concentrating.”  Although discrimination on the basis of pregnancy may constitute discrimination because of sex, the fact that an employee is pregnant does not, by itself, render her disabled.  After surveying case law from circuits around the country, the court reasoned that “pregnancy-related conditions that require employers to make accommodations for employees tend towards the medical rather than financial.”  Because McCarty’s concerns about added day-care costs were purely financial, and unrelated to any medical complication from her pregnancy, the court concluded that the employer had no obligation to accommodate her stresses.  As a result, McCarty’s failure-to-accommodate claim failed as a matter of law.  The court also granted summary judgment to the city on McCarty’s discriminatory termination claim.

Two points emerge from the district court’s opinion.  First, as the McCarty and other courts have repeatedly held, female employees are not automatically considered disabled under the ADA merely because they are pregnant.  Second, employers seeking to defend themselves against disability discrimination claims may argue, consistent with McCarty, that the ADA is only concerned with physical and mental health, not financial well-being.

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