In July 2008, Ann Marie Legg, a corrections officer at the Ulster County Jail in New York, requested that she be permitted to work light duty during the course of her pregnancy. The County denied her request on the basis of a 2007 policy that allowed only employees injured on the job to receive light-duty assignments. The County offered Legg two options: (1) to work full duty in positions requiring regular contact with inmates; or (2) to exhaust her accrued leave and file for New York State disability benefits.
In response, Legg sued the County. The federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected her lawsuit 11 years later. In the process, the Court described at length the rights (or lack of rights) of pregnant employees to light-duty work.
The Court began by noting that “Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against any individual with respect to her compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s sex. In 1978, Congress amended the Act and specified that the term ‘because of sex’ prohibited discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The Act provides that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work. The Act does not, however, impose an affirmative obligation on employers to provide accommodations to pregnant employees that they do not provide to other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.
“To prevail on her claim, Legg must first state a prima facie case by (1) identifying a specific employment practice or policy; (2) demonstrating that a disparity of impact exists; and (3) establishing a causal relationship between the two. To establish a prima facie case, a plaintiff pursuing a disparate impact claim under the Act must demonstrate, at a minimum, that some pregnant women are similar in their ability or inability to work to non-pregnant comparators receiving the accommodations sought by the plaintiff. Simply proving that all pregnant women will automatically be denied accommodations under the County’s policy is insufficient because it is tantamount to requesting that the Court assume that pregnant women are inherently incapable of working full duty.
“In so ruling, we do not mean to imply that Legg had to demonstrate that the policy had a statistically significant impact on female officers generally – or even on pregnant female officers – to make her prima facie case. As Legg and amici contend with some force, it is unclear how statistical evidence could ever be adduced in an environment where only three employees have been pregnant over the span of a decade. We do not need to identify the precise quantum of proof that would have been sufficient to sustain Legg’s evidentiary burden, however, in order to affirm the district court’s judgment in this case.
“We are sympathetic to the difficult choice that Legg faced between working full duty in a hazardous environment and losing substantial income by going on leave and receiving only disability benefits. Like the district court, we point out that the County’s policy may be vulnerable to a disparate impact claim under the Act, upon a sufficient evidentiary showing of pregnant officers’ inability to perform full-duty work. On the record before us, however, we are compelled to conclude that the district court did not clearly err in finding that the evidence presented by Legg was insufficient to sustain her claim.”
Legg v. Watson, 2020 WL 6325850 (2nd Cir. 2020).