Pregnant Employee Who Rested or Slept on Break Advances Claims

February 28, 2018

A former nurse fired after she was found resting or sleeping on a break and then told management she was pregnant may proceed to trial on her discrimination claims, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey concluded.

ManorCare Health Services suspended a licensed practical nurse and later terminated her after her manager accused her of sleeping during a night shift. The employee informed the company that she was not sleeping, but was fatigued and nauseous because she was pregnant. ManorCare explained that her actions violated company policy that required employees to stay awake on the job.

The plaintiff sued the company, alleging that it fired her because she was pregnant, and failed to provide an accommodation and retaliated against her for requesting an accommodation. ManorCare claimed that it decided to terminate the plaintiff's employment because she violated company policy by sleeping in the patient lounge. ManorCare asserted that because the plaintiff never affirmatively sought an accommodation for her pregnancy prior to her termination, it was not required to accommodate her unless the accommodation was required by a doctor.

The plaintiff's evidence suggested a "discriminatory attitude" that was more likely than not a motivating factor in the company's decision to end her employment, the court determined. The fact that other nurses used the patient lounge to take breaks and that there were no rules prohibiting employees from sleeping while on breaks led the court to conclude: "[T]here is no dispute that plaintiff was terminated for conduct—resting or sleeping in a chair during her break—that plaintiff alleges was directly caused by her pregnancy, a condition defendant learned of ... prior to her termination."

Finally, the plaintiff's disclosure to management that she was pregnant and that her pregnancy was the reason she needed breaks triggered the company's duty to engage in the interactive process during the time she was suspended, according to the court.