A certified nursing assistant who worked at a senior center in Weaverville, North Carolina, found herself without a job after pregnancy complications meant she could no longer lift patients or do other demanding tasks.
Jamie Cole developed preeclampsia and her doctor told her not to lift anything more than 35 pounds. After asking to change the tasks she did, the nursing home took her off the work schedule, according to a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed by Cole.
Cole is suing Sava Senior Care's Brian Center Health and Rehabilitation for economic and emotional damages, wages for time away from work, and reimbursement for legal fees.
After her doctor recommended no heavy lifting, Cole asked the nursing home to place her on "light duty," which included tasks such as feeding and cleaning residents and helping with oxygen tubing and nebulizers. Cole told 9News the nursing home denied her request, saying she could not perform the essential functions in her job description. Cole says other workers had been put on "light duty" in the past.
From May 1 to June 10, Cole did not work. On June 11, Cole was allowed to return to Sava, only to go on maternity leave a week later. Cole said she never returned to Sava. She gave birth mid-July and resigned on Sept. 4. Later that month, she found another job at a similar facility.
Almost 37 years after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, a federal act that forbids discrimination of pregnant workers, allegations and filings with the EEOC and Fair Employment Practices Agencies increased by almost 47 percent from 1997 through 2011.
Cole's case comes at a time when the Supreme Court is considering a similar pregnancy discrimination case. In Young v. UPS, Peggy Young of Annapolis, Maryland, alleges she lost her job and health care plan because she temporarily could not lift heavy objects due to her pregnancy.
Young lost her case twice in lower courts, but the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear her case on Dec. 3. It is expected to give its ruling by June.
Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, West Virginia and New York City passed laws that hope to accommodate the temporary needs of pregnant workers. After the UPS case, Maryland passed a similar law.
Cole said she thinks her case will result in the EEOC finding wrongdoing, but even if it does get dismissed, she believes she made her point.