Pregnant Employee Terminated Because Of Upcoming Lifting Restrictions Has A Viable Claim For “Anticipatory Discharge”
Plaintiff worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant (“CNA”) a physically demanding position that required her to push, pull, or lift at least 20 pounds. After plaintiff became pregnant, she submitted two notes from her doctor, the first of which stated that she could do “no lifting, pushing, pulling over 20 lbs.” The employer informed plaintiff that this note would be considered a resignation letter because the employer did not “put people on light duty who are pregnant.” The employee then submitted a second doctor’s note, stating that the lifting restrictions would not be imposed until plaintiff’s 20th week of pregnancy, roughly five weeks later. Prior to the 20th week, however, the employer terminated plaintiff with a notation that she “cannot work full duty CNA position due to pregnancy with doctor note restriction.”
Plaintiff sued, alleging pregnancy discrimination. The employer moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff was terminated because she was unable to perform the required duties of her job, not because she was pregnant. A federal judge in Chicago denied the motion to dismiss. The court found that the employer would have been “entitled to fire [plaintiff] … as of the 20th week of her pregnancy when, it is undisputed, she would no longer be able to do her job effectively.” However, it could not terminate her at 15 weeks of pregnancy, before the restrictions on her lifting took effect, “simply because it believe[d] pregnancy might prevent the employee from doing her job.” The court accordingly allowed plaintiff’s “anticipatory discharge” claim to move ahead to a jury trial. Cadenas v. Butterfield Health Care II, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95829 (N.D. Ill. 2014).