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Jailer's pregnancy discrimination claim reinstated on appeal


A federal appeals court has reinstated a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought by a prison guard based on a ruling the U.S. Supreme Court made last year.

According to Monday’s unanimous ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York in Ann Marie Legg and Patricia Watson v. Ulster County et al., Ms. Legg began working as a corrections officer for the county in New York state in 1996.

At the time, the county had a policy under which employees injured on the job were eligible for light-duty assignments, defined as clerical and other duties, that would not aggravate the employee’s condition, according to the ruling.

Ms. Legg underwent a high-risk pregnancy in 2008, and her doctor recommended she work light duty, but the Ulster County sheriff directed an undersheriff to deny her request.

In August 2008, Ms. Legg was bumped by two inmates fighting in at bathroom. As a result, she left work and did not return until after she gave birth.

She then filed suit in U.S. District Court in Syracuse, New York, against the sheriff and county, alleging pregnancy discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.

A Syracuse federal judge in 2014 granted the county’s motion to dismiss the case on the basis that all employees who had “outside line-of-duty disabilities” were treated the same under the light-duty policy.

But last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a part-time worker in Peggy Young v. United Parcel Service Inc., holding that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act “requires courts to consider the extent to which an employer’s policy treats pregnant workers less favorably than it treats nonpregnant workers similar in their ability or inability to work.”

In its ruling Monday, the 2nd Circuit panel overturned the lower court and remanded the case for further proceedings, ruling that Ulster County did not accommodate Ms. Legg’s request but did provide light-duty accommodations to other employees “who were unable to perform nonlight-duty tasks a result of injuries incurred on duty.”

That is enough for a reasonable jury to conclude “that it is more likely than not that the policy was motivated by a discriminatory intent,” the appeals court ruled, in remanding the case for further proceedings.

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