This appeal stems from a pregnancy discrimination suit brought by a female police officer against her employer. Plaintiff contends the employer violated the New Jersey Pregnant Workers Fairness Act ("PWFA"), a statute that has yet to be construed in a published opinion.
The PWFA amended the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, effective January 2014, to explicitly prohibit pregnancy-based discrimination in employment and in other contexts. Among other things, the PWFA obligates employers, subject to an "undue hardship" exception, to provide "reasonable accommodations" in the workplace to pregnant women upon their request, and to not "penalize" such women because of their pregnant status. N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(s).
When plaintiff found out she was pregnant, she told her supervisors her doctor recommended she be taken off patrol. She asked to be transferred to a light-duty or less strenuous position within the Police Department. Plaintiff was consequently assigned to non-patrol duty, pursuant to the Department's maternity assignment policy. That policy allows pregnant officers to work a maternity assignment, but on the condition that the officer use up all of her accumulated paid leave time (e.g., vacation, personal, and holiday time) before going on the changed assignment. The maternity assignment policy differs from the Department's policy providing light-duty assignments for nonpregnant injured officers, because only the latter policy gives the Police Chief the authority to waive the loss-of-leave-time condition.
This court vacates the trial court's entry of summary judgment in favor of defendants. The Department's maternity assignment policy, as written, unlawfully discriminates against pregnant employees as compared to nonpregnant employees who can seek and obtain a waiver of the loss-of-leave-time condition. Such nonequal treatment violates the PWFA. The court upholds plaintiff's facial challenge to the policy and directs the trial court to grant her requests for declaratory and injunctive relief, leaving other remedial issues to be decided below.
The court vacates summary judgment in the employer's favor with respect to reasonable accommodation issues. There are genuine issues of material fact for a jury to resolve as to the reasonableness of the loss-of-leave-time condition and whether that condition is so harsh as to comprise an impermissible "penalty." The jury also must evaluate the employer's assertions of undue hardship and plaintiff's claims for monetary damages.