Ohio High Court to Clarify Muddy Pregnancy Bias Law

November 18, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to take an appeal of a long-running pregnancy discrimination case that has already drawn four formal opinions – two favoring each side.

A client bulletin from the Dinsmore & Stohl law firm said the saga of Nursing Care Management of America d/b/a Pataskala Oaks Care Center v. Ohio Civil Rights Commission points up a broad split in legal interpretation of the Buckeye State pregnancy discrimination laws.

The law firm said a state administrative law judge and a state Common Pleas Court jurist both ruled that the Pataskala Oaks Care Center had not discriminated against nurse Tiffany McFee who was fired when she took six weeks of leave under doctor’s orders after giving birth in February 2004.

McFee later filed an Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) complaint alleging her firing was illegal that eventually found its way into court.

The long-term care facility in Pataskala, Ohio, near Columbus, had a policy that employees had to have a year of service before being eligible for a 12-week recuperation leave.  Officials there contended the policy, for which McFee did not qualify, treated all employees equally regardless of the reason for the extended time away from work.

Dinsmore & Stohl said it was that notion that the administrative law judge and Common Pleas Court jurist embraced.

On the other side of the legal fence are the OCRC and judges at the state’s Fifth District Court of Appeals. They have adhered to a contrary interpretation of the state discrimination law, under which employers must provide maternity leave to any employee who needs it regardless of whether the employee qualifies for leave under the terms of the employer’s policy.

The case accepted by the Supreme Court is an appeal of the Fifth District ruling, according to Dinsmore & Stohl.  

“Ohioans — employers and employees alike — need clarification on this issue,” the law firm commented. “Hopefully, with the Pataskala Oaks case, the Supreme Court will clear up the confusion.”

 The law firm’s analysis is available here. The Ohio appellate court’s ruling in the case is available here.