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Oklahoma Pregnancy Law in Court

Posted by Tamara

Employers in Oklahoma and across the country cannot change a woman’s job duties simply because she is pregnant, even if the job is physically demanding. To do so would be illegal discrimination. A recent court case illustrates this point.

The case, Spees v. James Marine Inc., involved Heather Spees, a welder. After being hired by James Marine, Inc, she became pregnant. She commented that she had had complication with previous pregnancies, so her employer requested a release from her doctor.

Spees saw her physician who provided her with a release to perform her usual duties, stating that she was fit for all aspects of her job, including exposure to high temperatures and welding fumes.

Her manager, however, refused to put her back to work welding. Despite her doctor’s release confirming her fitness for duty, the manager insisted that “common sense” dictated a pregnant woman could not weld. Apparently, James Marine, Inc. shared the manager’s opinion and instructed Spees to return to her doctor and get a release for light duty only. With the light duty release, she would retain her job and be transferred to the tool room. She complied.

The case was taken to federal court, where the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the employer acted improperly by depriving her of her usual welding job. It further stated that a doctor’s note allowing the pregnant employee to return to work supersedes the employer’s “common sense” concerns about the safety of the mother and the unborn baby.

This ruling upheld judgments by other federal courts, that changing a woman’s job because of pregnancy is a form of illegal discrimination. The employer assumed that Spees had a disability, which is incorrect. According to the EEOC definition, pregnancy is not a disability, and does not demand job accommodation or support accommodation being forced upon the pregnant employee.

Current medical opinion concurs, stating that a pregnant woman can do anything they did before pregnancy for at least the first 7 or 8 months.




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