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Pregnancy Discrimination Under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination

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New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (the “LAD”) covers a wide variety of activities and relationships, including employment relationships. It makes it unlawful to discriminate against an employee or potential employee on the basis of race, national origin, nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and several other specified classifications.

In January of 2014, Governor Christie signed into law a bill (S2995) that both protects pregnant employees from discrimination and requires employers to provide pregnant employees with reasonable accommodations so that they can continue working. The Act applies both to women who are currently pregnant and those who have recently given birth. Therefore, if the pregnant woman, or woman who recently gave birth, requires accommodations in the form of, for instance, a modified schedule, additional breaks, or less strenuous work duties, as long as those accommodations are reasonable under the circumstances, the employer must allow them and cannot retaliate against the employee for needing, using, or asking for those accommodations.

However, it is important to note that the fact that the accommodation must be “reasonable” under the circumstances should not be overlooked. If the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer, the employer may not be required to provide the accommodation. Some considerations in whether there is an undue hardship include: the size of the employer’s business and number of employees, the size of the employer’s budget, the type of operations, the nature and costs associated with the accommodation requested, and the extent to which the accommodation would affect the essential functions of the employee’s job.

There has been concern in the past that New Jersey’s LAD left a gaping hole for pregnant women. Indeed, charges filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) by individuals alleging pregnancy discrimination increased by approximately 65 percent from 1992 to 2007, though that amount has dropped slightly in recent years.

Also, while there is a federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 which makes pregnancy discrimination unlawful, that Act has often been narrowly interpreted and applied by the courts. New Jersey’s new addition of “pregnancy” as a specified classification that may not be discriminated against under the LAD provides another avenue of relief that will hopefully reflect the legislation’s intent to provide equal protection to pregnant women in the workforce. Indeed, several other states have adopted laws to try to remedy the issue of pregnancy discrimination, including Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, and Texas.

While this new amendment to the New Jersey LAD has not yet been reviewed in any great detail by the courts, the law specifically states that it “shall not be construed as otherwise increasing or decreasing any employee’s right under law to paid or unpaid leave in connection with pregnancy.” However, because it specifically provides for “modified work schedules” it is still somewhat unclear as to whether or not additional leave could be considered a reasonable accommodation for pregnancy or childbirth-related conditions.

McLaughlin & Nardi, LLC’s attorneys are experienced with discrimination and medical leave matters in the sphere of employment and other relationships. To learn more about what we may be able to do to help, please visit our website, or contact one of our New Jersey lawyers by e-mail or telephone at (973) 890-0004.