Seventh Circuit: Workers’ Comp Accommodations May Not be Extended to Pregnant Workers
All Employers with IL, IN, and WI Employees
August 16, 2022
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In EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal stated that if an employer limits offering temporary light duty work to those injured on the job because of a state statute requiring that the accommodation be offered, the accommodation is not required to also be offered to those disabled by pregnancy or those injured off-the-job. Specifically, a Wisconsin state statute requires employers to provide temporary light duty work to accommodate those injured on the job as a way to limit the employer’s liability. Wal-Mart complied with this requirement but did not extend the same opportunity to other employees. The EEOC alleged disparate treatment against the employer under Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act based on the employer’s refusal to provide the same temporary light duty accommodation to pregnant workers.
There is a three-step test for determining whether discrimination occurred:
- Step 1: The employee belongs to the protected class, sought accommodation, the employer did not accommodate her, and the employer did accommodate others similar in their ability or inability to work.
- Step 2: The burden shifts to the employer to offer at step two a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory” justification for denying the accommodation.
- Step 3: The employee must provide “sufficient evidence that the employer’s policies impose a significant burden on pregnant workers, and that the employer’s ‘legitimate, nondiscriminatory’ reasons are not sufficiently strong to justify the burden,” “giv[ing] rise to an inference of intentional discrimination.”
There was no dispute as to Step 1. For Step 2, Walmart offered evidence that the purpose of the temporary light duty accommodation policy was to implement a worker’s compensation program that benefits Walmart’s employees while limiting the company’s “legal exposure” and costs of hiring people to replace injured workers. The court stated that this was a legitimate reason for the accommodation policy’s limits that was not discriminatory. For Step 3, the court stated that because the employer’s refusal to extend the accommodation equally affected pregnant employees and those injured off the job, the employer was not intentionally discriminating against pregnant workers.
- Review work accommodation requests with legal counsel before declining them.
- Have appropriate personnel trained on accommodation requirements.
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