On May 30, 2008, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
ruled that an employee who alleged she was terminated by her employer because
she had an abortion stated a valid claim under the federal Pregnancy
Discrimination Act (“PDA”) amendments to Title VII. The Court further held the
employee was entitled to a trial on her claim because the reasons regarding her
termination were disputed. Jane Doe v. C.A.R.S. Protection Plus, Inc.
(3rd Cir. May 30, 2008).
The employee in C.A.R.S. Protection worked as a graphic artist for a
company specializing in insurance for used cars. After six months on the job,
she learned she was pregnant. Soon thereafter, the employee learned that her
baby had severe deformities, and her physician recommended that her pregnancy be
terminated. After the abortion, the employee took some additional time off for
the baby’s funeral and to spend time with her husband. She was then terminated
during her absence.
The employer contended that the employee was terminated for failing to call
in or request leave. The employee’s husband claimed that he called in on behalf
of his wife and received permission for her to take one week off of work.
3rd Circuit Analysis
The Court observed that the employee’s PDA claim was atypical. According to
the Court, “[s]he does not claim, for example, that she was discriminated
against because she was pregnant or that she had been fired while on maternity
leave. Instead, she argues that she was discharged because she underwent a
surgical abortion.” The PDA, which is part of Title VII, provides:
“[T]he terms ‘because of sex’ or ‘on the basis of sex’ include, but are
not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or
related medical conditions; and women affected by pregnancy, childbirth
or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all
employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe
benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their
ability or inability to work.”
Relying on EEOC guidelines and the legislative history of the PDA, the Court
held that the “related medical conditions” section of the PDA included
abortions. This ruling meant that the employee had stated a valid claim for
discrimination under Title VII, but did not end the Court’s analysis.
Next, the Court determined that there were factual disputes that prevented
summary judgment for the employer and required a trial on the merits. The
dispute centered on whether the employee had properly requested vacation for the
week following the abortion. The employee claimed that her husband had called
and requested vacation on her behalf. The employer asserted the employee had not
done so and that the husband’s phone records supported its position.
Notwithstanding the phone records, the Court concluded there was a material
issue of fact in dispute and the employee was, therefore, entitled to her day in
This decision demonstrates that the PDA prohibits
discrimination against women not only while they are pregnant or on
maternity leave, but also when they elect to have an abortion.
The PDA requires that employers treat women who
are pregnant, on maternity leave or recovering from an abortion the same
under fringe benefit programs as other persons who are unable to work for
The PDA does not require better treatment, but it
does require equal treatment.
Pregnancy, childbirth and related medical
conditions also can qualify as “serious health conditions” within the
meaning of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) for which an employee
is entitled to unpaid leave.
Whenever an employer disciplines or terminates an
employee soon after an employee has become pregnant, has a baby or undergoes
an abortion, the basis for the termination will be scrutinized closely. To
avoid a jury trial, an employer should be prepared to justify the
termination or disciplinary decision with objective evidence unrelated to
Employers should also be prepared to demonstrate
they have consistently enforced the policy, procedure or work rule that is
being relied upon in the termination / discipline decision.
For assistance is analyzing your company’s attendance, leave and other
pregnancy-related practices in light of the Third Circuit’s ruling, please
contact any member of the McGuireWoods
Labor & Employment or