Ohio Law Does Not Mandate Preferential Treatment of Pregnant Employees
In McFee v. Nursing Care Management of America, Inc., decided on June 22, 2010, the Ohio Supreme Court provided much anticipated and welcome guidance on pregnancy leaves under Ohio law. Approximately eight months after her date of hire, McFee informed her employer she could not work due to her pregnancy. Her employer's leave policy, however, required all employees to work for one year before being eligible for any leave. McFee was terminated because she left work before she was eligible under that uniformly-applied leave policy. She claimed her termination constituted unlawful sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.
The Ohio Supreme Court disagreed, concluding that Ohio law "does not provide greater protections for pregnant employees than nonpregnant employees." The McFee Court buttressed its holding with the following observations:
- Ohio law does not impose an automatic ban on the termination of pregnant employees.
- There is no mandatory pregnancy leave requirement under Ohio law.
- Ohio law mirrors the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act -- which does not require preferential treatment for pregnant employees.
- Pregnant employees must be treated the same as nonpregnant employees who are similarly situated with respect to their ability or inability to work.
- To succeed on a claim of pregnancy discrimination, an employee must show she was treated differently because of her pregnancy.
- Harmonizing two provisions of the Ohio Administrative Code that appeared to be in conflict, the Court held that when an employee meets the minimum-length-of-service qualifier for leave, the employer cannot lawfully terminate her for violating a policy that provides no leave or insufficient leave for temporary disability due to "pregnancy or a related medical condition."
The McFee Court specifically held that an "employment policy that imposes a uniform minimum-length-of-service requirement for leave eligibility with no exception for maternity leave is not direct evidence of sex discrimination" under O.R.C. Chapter 4112, and confirmed the uniformity between Ohio's pregnancy discrimination statute and its federal counterpart, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. One cautionary note; while Ohio and federal discrimination laws do not require preferential treatment for pregnant employees, they do mandate that employers treat them the same as nonpregnant employees who are "similar in their ability or inability to work." Employers who impose minimum-length-of-service requirements for leaves of absence must therefore be certain that those requirements are applied on a uniform and consistent basis.
For additional information, please contact Jeffrey S. Shoskin, Jeffrey N. Lindemann, or any other attorney in Frost Brown Todd's Labor and Employment Practice Group.