Former Welder Can Pursue Pregnancy Discrimination Claim

August 12, 2010 ( – A federal appellate court has ruled that a former welder can pursue claims that her employer discriminated against her because she became pregnant.

While the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s grant of summary judgment to the employer on Heather Spees’ pregnancy-discrimination claim and disability-discrimination claim to the extent that she was reassigned to a night-shift tool room position after becoming pregnant, it affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment on claims related to her termination after being ordered to bed rest by her doctor.  

The appellate court found that Spees’ transfer to the tool room resulted in her working a more inconvenient shift in a position that was less challenging and that required fewer qualifications. A reasonable jury could find that her transfer to the tool room constituted an adverse employment action.  

In addition, the court said Spees presented considerable evidence demonstrating that her pregnancy was at least a motivating factor, if not the motivating factor, in James Marine’s (JMI’s) decision to transfer her to the tool room. Even after Spees provided a doctor’s note clearing her to return to welding, her supervisor told her to obtain a second note limiting her to light duty. JMI relied on this second note in the decision to transfer Spees.  

The court also noted that Spees’ supervisor informed her that he was told by other managers she was not going to weld no matter what the doctor said. The appellate court said the district court therefore erred in granting summary judgment in favor of JMI on Spees’ transfer claim.  

According to the opinion, at the time Spees’ doctor found a complication and ordered her to bed rest, Spees has already used all of her allotted time off, and because Spees had not yet worked 90 days for JMI, she was not eligible for leave at all under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The court found JMI’s decision to terminate Spees was thus based on a combination of her being unable to work and her lack of any available medical leave, not on her pregnancy.   

The appellate court said prior case law does not require that its decision hinge on whether Spees’ pregnancy was a link in the chain of events that resulted in her firing, but whether there is evidence that JMI was motivated by Spees’s pregnancy in making its decision to terminate her.  

The court’s opinion is here.