Under California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (“PDLL”), pregnant employees are entitled to a period of leave “not to exceed four months.” Despite this language, the California Court of Appeal recently held that employers should not interpret the PDLL as a “cap” on pregnancy leave.
Facing a discrimination lawsuit filed by an employee terminated following exhaustion of her PDLL leave, the employer in Sanchez v. Swissport, Inc. argued that termination was proper when its employee failed to return to work. Sanchez had sued Swissport for sex and pregnancy discrimination under the California Fair Employment & Housing Act (“FEHA”). The trial court agreed with Swissport and dismissed Sanchez’s complaint because the allegations established that Swissport had complied with the PDLL. On appeal, however, Sanchez’s claim was reinstated because she had alleged Swissport failed to discuss or consider additional leave she claimed was necessary due to her high-risk pregnancy and related disabilities.
According to the Sanchez Court, “a woman disabled by pregnancy is entitled to the protections afforded any other disabled employee – a reasonable accommodation that does not impose an undue hardship on her employer.” As such, “disability leave may in some circumstances exceed four months.” With this holding, the Sanchez Court rejected the argument that pregnancy disability leave is “capped” at four months under the PDLL.
The lesson from Sanchez is that employees disabled by pregnancy may, under certain circumstances, be entitled to additional leave or protections not specified under the PDLL. This is an important decision that impacts how employers must communicate with and accommodate employees disabled by pregnancy. If you have questions about the Sanchez case and its potential impact on your business, please contact our team of employment lawyers.