Policy Revisions Found Lawful

April 12, 2006
Amber Walker was employed as a beer truck driver for Fred Nesbit Distributing Co. When she became pregnant, she claimed that unlike pregnant employees, male employees who were injured off the job were accommodated by their employer, who provided light duty or reassignment to them. In April 2002, Walker requested to either be reassigned to light duty or have an assistant accompany her to do heavy lifting during deliveries. In denying her request, the employer cited a policy change made in fall 2001 that allowed employees to be reassigned to light duty only if they were injured on the job. Her employer did not add this policy to the employee handbook or commit it to writing.

   A district court stated that whether her employer’s disparate treatment of Walker was motivated by pregnancy discrimination presented a fact question for the jury. Because her employer changed its policy of providing accommodation for off-the-job injuries, the jury was entitled to find that the arguable disparate treatment of Walker was not motivated by pregnancy discrimination. Walker v. Fred Nesbit Distributing Co., 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 28552 (8th Cir. December 22, 2005).

    Impact: Employers may change their personnel policies. What might be an applicable policy today might not be applicable tomorrow. The safer course would be to announce the change in policy prospectively and also make the announcement in writing. Doing so can help avoid disputes about whether or when the particular policy changed.

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.

Workforce Management, April 10, 2006, p. 8 -- Subscribe Now!