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North Bergen company settles pregnancy discrimination suit

A woman alleged the company denied pregnancy-related accommodations

The woman was allegedly denied as-needed bathroom breaks and denied a 20-pound limit on items she would be assigned to lift.

A Hudson County company will pay a former employee $25,000 and implement workplace policy reforms under a settlement to resolve the former employee’s complaint of unlawful pregnancy discrimination, after an investigation by the Division on Civil Rights (DCR), according to New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

The settlement coincides with DCR issuing Findings of Probable Cause in two other pregnancy-related cases, involving women whose requests for pregnancy-related accommodations resulted in losing their jobs.

The settlement involves a former packager for the order-fulfillment company Bergen Logistics of North Bergen who alleges that the company denied her request for pregnancy-related accommodations, including as-needed bathroom breaks and a 20-pound limit on any items she would be assigned to lift. After she filed a complaint, DCR’s investigation found that Bergen Logistics made no effort to accommodate her pregnancy but instead required her to take unpaid family leave.

The woman’s name was redacted.

Last year, the DCR announced it was pursuing a former corporate marketing director’s complaint against her ex-employer, VCNY Home of North Bergen, for alleged pregnancy discrimination.

Fighting pregnancy-related discrimination

“Our laws prohibit pregnancy-related discrimination in employment to protect workplace equality and to ensure that workers aren’t penalized for having children,” Grewal said. “Employers need to be certain they understand and respect the legal protections for workers who become pregnant and want to continue working. We take seriously the rights of all workers, and will hold accountable any employer whose policies deny or diminish those rights.”

“The New Jersey Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) was enacted to prevent the precise harm suffered by the women in these cases,” said DCR Deputy Director Rosemary DiSavino. “Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or who experience pregnancy-related medical conditions must be provided with a reasonable accommodation under the law, and cannot simply be told to take a leave of absence.”

DCR’s investigation of Bergen Logistics discovered that the company had a policy under which employees were permitted to work only when they had no medical restrictions. Such a policy violates state anti-discrimination laws that protect individuals with disabilities and pregnant women.

In accordance with that policy, the company told the employee she could return to work only if she provided a doctor’s a note stating she had no physical restrictions.

Under the settlement, Bergen Logistics must pay the woman $25,000 to settle the case, implement a new anti-discrimination policy consistent with the PWFA, and provide training for employees on the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the company’s policies regarding pregnancy- and disability-related accommodations. For the next two years, at six-month intervals, the company must notify DCR of all complaints filed by employees under its anti-discrimination policy.

Similar cases

The two Findings of Probable Cause  announced by Grewal involve similar issues of unlawful pregnancy discrimination. A Finding of Probable Cause means that DCR has concluded its preliminary investigation of a civil rights complaint and determined there is sufficient evidence to support a claim that a state anti-discrimination law has been violated.

In one, an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) was allegedly told by her employer, Exceptional Medical Transport of West Berlin, that she had only two options upon requesting an accommodation for her high-risk twin pregnancy: go out on disability or resign.

In her complaint, the EMT asserted that in October 2019 she provided Exceptional Medical Transport with a physician’s note indicating she should not lift more than 50 pounds because of her high-risk pregnancy.

Exceptional Medical Transport claimed it had a policy of not providing modified or alternative work when an employee is unable to perform an essential function of her job, and this employee’s lifting restriction would not allow her to perform an essential function of the job of an EMT because EMTs lift over 50 pounds repeatedly during the day. But the company also admitted to finding light-duty assignments for workers injured on the job such as office work and dispatch duties, and evidence uncovered in DCR’s investigation supported the employee’s assertion that the company had openings in the dispatch position during the relevant time.

The other Finding of Probable Cause stems from a complaint filed by a woman alleging that her employer, an institutional housekeeping company, fired her in May 2017 when she sought to take additional leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the New Jersey Family Leave Act (FLA) as a result of having given birth via C-section delivery and in order to bond with her infant.

Under the FLA, an employee is entitled to up to 12 weeks of bonding time after the birth or adoption of a child. DCR’s investigation found that the company failed to grant the employee’s request for an extension of leave of absence as an accommodation of her pregnancy-related disability, and that the company failed to inform her of her rights under the FLA or display legally-required FLA posters.

People who believe their rights to family leave or breastfeeding accommodations have been violated can file a complaint with DCR within 180 days of the act by visiting njcivilrights.gov or by calling 973-648-2700.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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