United States: Louisiana Court Upholds Discharge Of Worker With A Pregnancy-Related Illness Who Violated A Company Rule

Last Updated: April 11 2018
Article by Javier Jalice

The Louisiana Court of Appeal, Fourth Circuit recently held that a pregnant employee who suffered from a pregnancy-related illness was not disabled within the scope and meaning of the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law (LEDL). According to the court, the employee had failed to establish that her illness qualified as a disability under state law. Brown v. The Blood Center, No. 2017-CA-0750 (March 15, 2018).

Background

Shameka Brown worked as a supervisor for The Blood Center (TBC). On August 9, 2014, Brown, who at the time was approximately seven months pregnant, was working as the on-duty supervisor at a mobile blood donation center. During her shift, Brown began feeling ill, and she vomited and urinated on herself. Without notifying her supervisor, Brown left work and went home to shower and change. Brown conceded she did not notify her supervisor of her emergency or that she needed to leave work before she left. Instead, she claimed she told a coworker of her departure. Two hours after her departure, Brown called her immediate supervisor, Antonio White, and communicated what had transpired. Following the conversation with White, Brown returned to work and completed her shift.

TBC terminated Brown's employment for abandoning her post without first providing proper notification to her supervisor in violation of TBC policy. TBC's policy provided that leaving a work station while on duty without first obtaining permission from one's supervisor is cause for immediate dismissal. Brown did not dispute being aware of this policy, nor did she dispute that she left the TBC facility without her supervisor's permission.

TBC explained that it decided to terminate Brown's employment because at or about 2:30 p.m., its marketing manager, Jerry Himel, visited the mobile blood donation center where Brown was assigned to work and found the "bleeding area" empty and unattended with five donors waiting to give blood. Upon questioning the staff present, Himel was informed that Brown had left her post at or about 1:00 p.m. due to an illness. Himel contacted Brown's immediate supervisor, White, to communicate the problem. Then, after speaking with Himel, White received a phone call from Brown communicating she had left work. Brown then returned to work. Brown did not dispute TBC's account.

Brown filed suit against TBC asserting claims for damages under the LEDL and the Louisiana Pregnancy Discrimination Act (LPDA). Brown alleged that TBC discriminated against her because of a disability and/or pregnancy-related condition by wrongfully terminating her employment when, due to her pregnancy, she suffered from a medical emergency that caused her to temporarily leave work.

During his deposition, White testified that during the call with Brown, Brown never provided any details of her illness other than to say she left work because she felt ill. White further explained that Brown acknowledged that she was aware that the blood center was busy and stated that she could not return to work because she was not wearing her uniform.

After conducting discovery, TBC moved for summary judgment. The trial court denied the motion but advised TBC it could re-urge the motion after Brown had deposed a TBC representative regarding the work rule she had allegedly violated. On February 8, 2017, TBC moved again to summarily dismiss the claims and, on May 4, 2017, the trial court granted summary judgment to TBC, dismissing all of Brown's claims with prejudice. Brown appealed the trial court's grant of TBC's motion for summary judgment.

The Louisiana Fourth Circuit's Decision and Analysis

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the trial court's decision to dismiss Brown's disability and pregnancy discrimination claims against TBC. With respect to her disability discrimination claim, the court explained that Brown failed to establish she suffered from a disability under the LEDL. The court began by pointing out that while Brown generally alleged she was experiencing a difficult pregnancy, the sole allegation she had put forth in support of her disability claim was that, on the day in question, she had been unable to stay at work because of a pregnancy-related illness. As a result, the court agreed with the trial court's conclusion that Brown had failed to establish that she suffered from a disability under the LEDL.

In reaching its decision, the court rejected Brown's attempt to overturn the trial court's holding by arguing that the LPDA's definition and language, as set forth under La. R.S. 23:341(B)(1), was applicable to her pregnancy-related LEDL disability claim. Specifically, Brown argued that because under La. R.S. 23:341(B)(1), the definition of disability sets forth that "pregnancy . . . related medical conditions are treated as any other temporary disability," the trial court erred in finding she had failed to establish that she suffered from a disability. The court rejected Brown's argument, explaining that because La. R.S. 23:341(B)(1) begins with the words "[f]or purposes of this Part," the LPDA's language defining pregnancy as a disability was not applicable to her LEDL claim.

The court additionally noted that even if Brown had established that TBC considered her disabled, her LEDL claim would still fail as she could not show that her employment had been terminated "solely because of" any alleged disability.

As to the pregnancy discrimination claim, the court held that because Brown could not establish pretext, her pregnancy discrimination claim failed. The court explained that because Brown did not dispute TBC's rationale for discharging her, she could not possibly establish that her employment was terminated because she was pregnant or because she suffered from a pregnancy-related illness.

Key Takeaways

While state courts have tended to be more broad-minded in construing state discrimination claims despite the fact that state laws generally tend to mirror their federal counterparts, the court in Brown did just the opposite, applying a narrow interpretation of the LEDL and LPDA. Still, Brown serves as a reminder to Louisiana employers that they may want to be cognizant that under both the LPDA and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008, pregnant workers may have impairments arising from their pregnancies that qualify as disabilities. Employers may also want to keep in mind that pursuant to Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., No. 12-1226 (Supreme Court of the United States, 2015), a plaintiff could potentially establish pretext by demonstrating that an employer's policy imposes a "significant burden" on pregnant workers without a "sufficiently strong" justification. Brown also highlights that employers may want to take action to ensure that their attendance and notification policies are crafted properly and enforced uniformly. 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Mayer Brown
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Mayer Brown
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions