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Seventh Circuit Classifies Pregnancy Complications as ADA Disability

    Client Alerts
  • September 09, 2011

After passage of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), employers expressed concerns that many short-term conditions previously excluded from the definition of ADA disabilities would now fall under that definition. Those concerns were justified last week when the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals became the first federal appellate court to conclude that an employee with pregnancy-related complications was a protected disabled person under the ADA, even using pre ADAAA definitions.

In Serednyj v. Beverly Healthcare LLC, the plaintiff worked at a nursing home. Shortly after becoming pregnant, she began experiencing complications that resulted in her doctor issuing orders that she not perform strenuous work. The plaintiff was not eligible for FMLA leave, and after concluding that the medical restrictions prevented her from performing her job, the nursing home terminated her employment. The plaintiff sued, alleging among other things, ADA discrimination and failure to accommodate.

The Seventh Circuit first concluded that the plaintiff was a protected disabled person as defined under the pre-ADAAA standard. The court defined "impairment" under the ADA as including complications relating to the reproductive system. However, under the facts of this specific case, the plaintiff was unable to prove that she was substantially limited in performing major life activities. The Seventh Circuit noted that the restrictions were limited in duration, and that the plaintiff was not substantially limited in the major life activity of reproduction.

The second part of this decision would likely be decided differently under ADAAA. The standard for substantial limitation now includes impact on bodily systems and functions even if they do not interfere with work or daily life activities. In addition, the plaintiff likely would be considered "regarded as" disabled under ADAAA if pregnancy complications are considered to be an impairment.

This decision provides plaintiffs with precedent for requesting accommodations for short-term medical conditions that are certain to resolve themselves in a matter of months. Even in situations where the employee is not FMLA eligible, employers should conduct an ADA accommodation analysis to determine their obligations to provide assistance, even when the medical condition is short-lived.