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No Preferential Treatment for Maternity Leave

October 3, 2010

Tiffany McFee applied for but was denied maternity leave after about eight months of employment at Pataskala Oaks Care Center, an Ohio nursing home. Under Pataskala Oaks’ leave policy, every employee must work 12 months before becoming eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. After missing work because of pregnancy complications and subsequent childbirth, McFee was terminated based on her absence from work without leave. McFee filed a complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, claiming her termination constituted unlawful sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.

The commission found that Pataskala Oaks’ policy constituted unlawful sex discrimination. On appeal, the Ohio Court of Appeals held that state law requires firms to provide employees with a reasonable period of maternity leave. Because Pataskala Oaks’ policy did not provide such leave for employees with less than one year of service, the policy was found to violate Ohio law. Pataskala Oaks appealed.

The Ohio Supreme Court held that state law requires that pregnant employees be treated the same for employment-related purposes as employees who are not pregnant. Thus, the court said, “a pregnant employee may be terminated for unauthorized absence just as any other employee who has not yet met the minimum length of service requirement but takes leave based upon a similar inability to work.”

Noting that Ohio law mirrors federal law, the court noted that “federal courts agree that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not require preferential treatment for pregnant employees.” McFee v. Nursing Care Mgmt. of Am., Ohio, No. 2009-0756 (6/22/10).

Impact: A leave policy that is applied consistently to all employees might not violate state or federal laws. In all cases, employers should consider employee rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and applicable state law.

Workforce Management, September 2010, p. 10 -- Subscribe Now!

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.