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Woodard v. Rest Haven Christian Services

March 16, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall


Plaintiff Michelle Woodard has filed a Title VII employment discrimination lawsuit against Defendant Rest Haven Christian Services, d/b/a Rest Haven Central ("Rest Haven"), alleging sex discrimination as provided in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Pub. L. No. 95-555, 92 Stat. 2076 (1978) ("PDA"), which amended Title VII. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). Woodard seeks relief under theories of disparate treatment and disparate impact. Rest Haven has moved for summary judgment.


Woodard was employed with Rest Haven from 2002 to some time in 2006 as a Certified Nursing Assistant ("CNA"). At the time of the alleged discrimination, Woodard was working approximately thirty hours per week. Woodard became pregnant near the end of 2005, and on February 24, 2006, she gave her supervisor a note from her doctor which stated that "My patient is pregnant and is required to be on light duty, 'sitting mostly' until the end of her pregnancy." The parties refer to this as a request for "light duty." Rest Haven declined to accommodate this request as written, and did not seek any clarification from Woodard or from Woodard's doctor as to the precise limitations Woodard's pregnancy required. Woodard was not permitted to work on February 24, 2006, and was taken off of Rest Haven's work schedule. Neither party suggests that Woodard's performance prior to February 24, 2006 was deficient.

The parties dispute why Rest Haven declined to accommodate Woodard's request. Rest Haven takes the position that it has a non-written policy whereby it will accommodate only light duty requests made by employees who are injured on the job (hereinafter referred to as "the policy"). Woodard disputes that the policy exists, and even assuming it does exist, Woodard argues that it is not uniformly applied. Woodard contends that the reason for the denial is that Rest Haven discriminates on the basis of pregnancy.

The parties disagree as to the precise definition of "light duty." Woodard argues that this term means that there is a reduction and/or modification in job function that complies with an employee's medical restrictions. Rest Haven objects that this definition is insufficient, asserting that light duty also assumes that the temporary disability was caused by an on-the-job injury. See Def. Resp. to Pl.'s Local R. 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. of Add'l Facts at 13 (Doc. No. 93). The parties agree that the tasks a recipient of light duty is required to perform vary depending upon the circumstances of the particular employee's medical restrictions-indeed, Rest Haven describes the light-duty work requirements as being "invented" to reflect what the employee is capable of doing.

The parties also dispute how Woodard's employment with Rest Haven concluded. Both parties agree that Woodard was not permitted to work at Rest Haven during the pendency of her pregnancy. Rest Haven takes the position that Woodard was never terminated, but voluntarily resigned by failing to return to work after her pregnancy. Rest Haven states that Woodard was taken off of the work schedule because she could not complete her CNA responsibilities, but that her job was held open until sometime in the summer of 2006. Woodard disagrees, taking the position that she was terminated on February 24, 2006. Both parties agree that when Woodard applied for unemployment benefits on or about February 27, 2006, Rest Haven contested her application.


I. Legal Standards

A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is warranted when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Brengettcy v. Horton, 423 F.3d 674, 680 (7th Cir. 2005). All facts, and any inferences to be drawn from them, must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Wis. Cent., Ltd. v. Shannon, 539 F.3d 751, 756 (7th Cir. 2008). An issue of material fact as to one element of Woodard's claim is insufficient to deny Rest Haven summary judgment unless Woodard has provided evidence to support all the other elements of the Title VII claim that she must ultimately prove. Lewis v. City of Chicago, 496 F.3d 645, 652 (7th Cir. 2007).

B. Sex Discrimination and Title VII

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits unlawful employment discrimination on the basis of sex. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. In 1976, the Supreme Court concluded that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy was not the same as discrimination on the basis of sex. See Gen. Elec. Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125 (1976) (upholding exclusion of pregnancy-related disabilities from disability plan). Congress overruled Gilbert by passing the PDA. See Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. v. EEOC, 462 U.S. 669, 678--79 & nn. 15--17 (1983) (discussing legislative history of the PDA). The PDA amended 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k), which is part of the definitional section of Title VII. After enactment of the PDA, the section now reads:

The terms "because of sex" or "on the basis of sex" include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; and women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work . . . . § 2000e(k). "As a definitional amendment, the PDA provides no substantive rule to govern pregnancy discrimination." Scherr v. Woodland Sch. Cmty. Consol. Dist. No. 50, 867 F.2d 974, 978 (7th Cir. 1988). Rather, the PDA borrows from existing Title VII remedies, and plaintiffs may proceed under either a theory of "disparate treatment-intentional discriminatory treatment of employees based ...

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