Southern District Court of Florida
No. 12–21578–CIV; 2012 WL 3043021
July 25, 2012 Keywords:
ADA – general, employment, enforcement, legal concepts, medical and health care, pregnancy
Facts of the Case
Plaintiff, Silvia Mayorga (“Mayorga”), began her employment with Alorica, Defendant, in 2010 as a customer service representative. In January 2011, Mayorga became pregnant and her obstetrician determined it to be a high-risk pregnancy. Mayorga informed her direct supervisor as well as Alorica’s representatives of her high-risk pregnancy. In April 2011, Mayorga informed her direct supervisor that she needed to undergo ultrasound testing and requested two days off from work. The supervisor initially denied Mayorga’s request for an excused absence, but later the request was granted by a human resources representative. Mayorga’s ultrasound test revealed that her baby was in a breech position throughout her entire pregnancy. The complaint alleges Mayorga was admitted to the emergency room on three separate occasions for “severe complications relating to her pregnancy.” Due to these complications, Mayorga’s doctor ordered her on bed rest for three weeks. Mayorga requested three weeks of unpaid leave from her direct supervisor who initially denied the request, but a human resources representative subsequently approved the request. When she returned to work, Mayorga was informed that she had been terminated. Mayorga sued her former employer, Alorica, on three counts: (1) Sex and Pregnancy Discrimination in violation of Title VII, (2) Disability/Perceived Disability Discrimination and Failure to Accommodate in violation of the ADA, and (3) Handicap Discrimination and Failure to Accommodate in violation of the Florida Civil Rights Act (FRCA). This brief will discuss the latter two disability claims, and the legal issues pertaining to each of them.
Issues of the Case
- Whether Mayorga’s pregnancy was an actual disability under the ADA?
- Whether Mayorga’s pregnancy met the “regarded as” definition of disability under the ADA?
- Whether pregnancy discrimination is recognized as a cause of action under the FCRA?
Arguments & Analysis
In order to establish discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must show: (1) she has a disability under the ADA, (2) she is a qualified individual, and (3) she was unlawfully discriminated against because of her disability. To satisfy the requirement that an individual has a disability within the meaning of the ADA, the individual must demonstrate: “(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment. Mayorga is proceeding under both subsections (A) and (C). In doing so, Mayorga’s alleging that Alorica discriminated against her and refused to provide a reasonable accommodation based on her actual disability, and based on Alorica regarding her as disabled.
1. Actual Disability
The Court noted pregnancy, absent unusual circumstances, is not considered a disability under the ADA. However, a pregnancy-related impairment that substantially limits a major life activity is a disability under the first prong (A) of the definition. For instance, the Court noted that where “a pregnancy causes an impairment separate from the symptoms associated with a healthy pregnancy, or significantly intensifies the symptoms associated with a healthy pregnancy, such medical condition may fall within the ADA’s definition of a disability” under the first prong of the definition (A). Mayorga’s complaint alleged that she suffered from a physiological impairment because “her baby was in a breech presentation” and she had significant complications. Moreover, the Complaint alleged that Alorica’s decision to terminate her employment was based on these impairments. The Court concluded that such allegations, if proven to be true, would provide Mayorga a valid claim under the ADA.
2. Regarded As Definition of Disability
An individual can satisfy the “regarded as” definition if she can establish that she “has been subjected to an action prohibited … because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.” The relevant inquiry, the Court determined, was how Alorica “perceived [Mayorga’s] condition, including the reactions and perceptions of the persons interacting or working with [her].” The Court noted that the ADAAA specifies that the “regarded as” definition of disability does not apply to “impairments that are transitory and minor.” Therefore to prove that the “regarded as” definition of disability would be not be applicable in this case, Alorica must demonstrate that Mayorga’s impairment is both “transitory and minor.” The Court found that an impairment is transitory if it has “an actual or expected duration of 6 months or less.” However, the Court was less forthcoming in clearly articulating what might be considered minor, noting that the nature, duration, and severity of an impairment are inquiries of fact, and should be determined on a case by case basis. Alorica argued that Mayorga’s “regarded as” claim must fail because her ailment was transitory and minor. However, the Court found that Mayorga’s complaint alleged only some facts, including that that in April 2011, Mayorga informed her supervisor that she needed to undergo testing at weeks 14 and 18 of her pregnancy, and that she returned from her three-week absence on June 27, 2011. Thus, the Court allowed Mayorga to amend her complaint to show that her impairment was not transitory. Similarly, Alorica argued that Mayorga’s impairment was “minor.” The Court noted that the ADA does not define “minor.” The Court also noted that, “whether the nature, duration, and severity of these symptoms are sufficient to constitute a disability under the ADA are questions of fact that require individualized determination.” Accordingly, the Court found that it could not determine from the face of the Complaint whether Mayorga’s impairment was minor.
3. Pregnancy Discrimination under the FCRA
The purpose of the FCRA is to “to secure for all individuals within the state freedom from discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status.” Thus, the Court noted that the Florida legislature made it unlawful to discharge any individual “because of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status”. The FCRA is modeled after Title VII of the ADA; not surprisingly, courts have applied Title VII case law and analysis to claims brought under the FCRA. It’s equally important to understand that Florida courts have construed the FCRA in conformity with the ADA. That being said, as mentioned at length in the prior sections above, there’s an important distinction between a healthy pregnancy and pregnancy-related complications in assessing disability under the ADA. Accordingly, the Court held that “[w]here a medical condition arises out of a pregnancy and causes an impairment beyond the symptoms associated with a healthy pregnancy, or significantly intensifies those symptoms, such medical condition may constitute a disability within the definition of the ADA, and therefore also under the FCRA.”
The court allowed Mayorga’s claim to proceed because she met the definition of having an actual disability required under the ADA, and allowed her to amend her complaint to show that her impairment was not transitory and could meet the “regarded as” definition of disability under the ADA. Furthermore, the Court also found that Mayorga’s pregnancy-related complications were, if shown to be true, sufficient to state a claim for disability discrimination under the FCRA.
Policy & Practice
This case informs prospective plaintiffs that pregnancy in and of itself does not
satisfy the definition of disability in the ADA or FCRA. But, more importantly, this case speaks clearly in establishing that pregnancy-related complications may satisfy the definition of disability under the ADA and FCRA. In order to make a valid claim with respect to an “actual disability” under the ADA or FCRA, a plaintiff who has a pregnancy-related impairment must show that such impairment has symptoms that aren’t associated with a healthy pregnancy, or significantly intensifies the symptoms associated with a healthy pregnancy. This case also informs plaintiffs that to have a “regarded as” claim under the ADA, a plaintiff must have sufficient evidence to overcome a defendant-employer’s defense that a plaintiff’s pregnancy-related impairment is “transitory and minor.” Here, the court drew a line and defined transitory as “an impairment that has an expected duration of 6 months or less.” Six months could be an important yardstick for future plaintiffs and defendants to use in regarded as claims to determine whether an impairment would be considered transitory.
Disclaimer These materials do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in any individual case. Please consult an attorney licensed in your state for legal advice and/or representation.
These materials were prepared by the legal research staff of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University in partnership with the Southeast ADA Center to highlight legal and policy developments relevant to civil rights protections and the impact of court decisions in the Southeast Region under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These materials are based on federal disability rights laws and court decisions in effect at the time of publication. Federal and state disability rights law can change at any time. In addition, state and local laws and regulations may provide different or additional protections. Materials are intended solely as informal guidance, and are neither a determination of your legal rights nor responsibilities under the ADA or other federal, state, and local laws, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. The accuracy of any information contained herein is not warranted. Any links to external websites are provided as a courtesy and are not intended to nor do they constitute an endorsement of the linked materials.