Courtroom Cue: New Jersey Supreme Court Addresses Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

By: Cristina N. Hyde, JD

On March 9, 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court had its first opportunity to consider a pregnancy discrimination matter that was based on the New Jersey Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (the “Act”).  The Court was asked to consider whether the Act had been violated as a matter of law.  After careful analysis and with due consideration to the background and import of the relatively new piece of legislation, the Supreme Court upheld the Appellate Division’s ruling that the plaintiff raised a valid claim and that the case should proceed.

In Delanoy v. Township of Ocean, the plaintiff, a pregnant police officer, alleged that the differences between the defendant Township’s standard operating procedures for light duty work as they applied to pregnant and non-pregnant injured officers were discriminatory.  She also alleged that the defendant failed to accommodate her pregnancy.  The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims, finding that no violation had occurred.  However, the Appellate Division disagreed.  The matter was then appealed to the Supreme Court wherein the Appellate Division’s ruling was affirmed.

In 2014, the Act, amended the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) to include “pregnancy and breastfeeding” as a protected classification and add specific protections in the workplace for pregnant and breastfeeding women.  The amended legislation not only outlines an employer’s obligation to a pregnant or breastfeeding employee but also includes a list of possible accommodations.  Therefore, despite the finding that the plaintiff in Delanoy did not identify a specific cause of action under the Act, the Court recognized that three statutory causes of action do exist: (1) unequal or unfavorable treatment of a pregnant or breastfeeding employee; (2) the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation to a pregnant or breastfeeding employee; and (3) the illegal penalization of a pregnant or breastfeeding employee who has requested an accommodation.

Including New Jersey, 27 states currently have laws in place that require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees.  Moreover, H.R. 1065 was recently passed by the United States House of Representatives on May 14, 2021, and is currently  being reviewed by the Senate.  If passed the bill will create a national prohibition on employment practices that discriminate against making reasonable accommodations for qualified employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. It will also set forth enforcement procedures and remedies for related unlawful employment practices.

In light of this ruling, if you would like assistance reviewing your standard operating procedures as they relate to the treatment and accommodation of pregnant and breastfeeding employees, Contact Us.

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