Tiana LaSalle is a van driver for the New York City morgue. LaSalle sued her employer alleging a variety of discrimination claims. Her chief complaint, however, appeared to be that the City refused her request for an accommodation with regard to lifting heavy objects during her pregnancy.
In November 2011 Plaintiff was pregnant, and she provided her boss with a doctor’s note informing him of the pregnancy. In December 2011, LaSalle told her supervisor that she could not lift more than 45 pounds due to her pregnancy, and she asked to not be assigned to the morgue van, because that assignment required her to lift more than 45 pounds. LaSalle also told another supervisor that she could not work the morgue van because of her pregnancy. Nonetheless, Plaintiff continued to be assigned to the morgue van approximately two days per week.
In early January 2012, LaSalle was injured while transporting a cadaver. She went on medical leave the next day. In April 2012, LaSalle provided her employer with a doctor’s note stating that she could return to work as long as she would not be required to lift more than 25 pounds. The morgue told her that no “light duty” assignments were available. LaSalle, through her attorney, repeated her request to return to work with accommodation. In June 2012, LaSalle returned to work under an agreement that she would not be required to lift more than 25 pounds, or change tires or wheels, for a six-week period. LaSalle claimed that she went unpaid during eight months of her pregnancy because of her employer’s failure to accommodate the physical restrictions associated with her disability.
Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”), prohibits “discrimination based on a woman’s pregnancy. The PDA requires that “women affected by pregnancy” be treated the same as “other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k) .
The Court concluded the LaSalle had sufficiently alleged a disparate claim under the PDA. The Court relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision confirming that a plaintiff may bring a PDA claim based on her employer’s failure to accommodate her pregnancy. Young v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 575 U.S. __, 2015 U.S. LEXIS 2121 (Mar. 25, 2015). Under Young, unless there us there is “direct evidence that a workplace policy, practice or decision relies expressly” on a plaintiff’s pregnancy status, such a claim is analyzed using the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. Id. Thus, to establish a prima facie case of discrimination, a plaintiff must establish “that she belongs to the protected class, that she sought accommodation, that the employer did not accommodate her, and that the employer did accommodate others similarly situated in their ability or inability to work.” Id. According to the Court, LaSalle’s allegations were sufficient to state a claim of discrimination.
The Court also allowed LaSalle’s lawsuit to proceed to the extent she alleged a failure to accommodate claim under disability law. The City argued that the requested accommodations—that she not be assigned to the morgue van or required to lift more than 25 pounds—would have prevented her from performing the essential functions of her job. However, LaSalle has received essentially the same accommodation during a 2008 pregnancy and later in June 2012. According to the Court, the City offered no explanation for why it was able to make those accommodations but could not accommodate LaSalle between December 2011 and June 2012.