Pregnancy Discrimination and the Illinois Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act
Sarah Spriesch worked as a fire department paramedic for the City of Chicago. In the summer of 2014, she informed her supervisor that she was pregnant, and she was immediately forced to go on leave for the rest of her pregnancy. She returned to work two months after giving birth and requested accommodations so that she could pump and express breastmilk at work. The City did not consistently allow Ms. Spriesch to take breaks to pump, nor did it provide her with regular access to a private, non-bathroom space in which she could pump and express breastmilk. Upon returning from leave, Ms. Spriesch was assigned to a paramedic “relief pool,” which meant she received temporary assignments at a number of firehouses, some of which did not have private, non-bathroom areas. Ms. Spriesch brought several claims against the City, including pregnancy discrimination under Title VII, a pregnancy/childbirth accommodation claim under the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA), and breastfeeding accommodation claims under the federal Fair Labor Standards act and the Illinois Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act (INMWA).
The City filed a motion to dismiss Ms. Spriesch’s claims. Most significantly, with regard to her INMWA claim, the court recognized that the law implies a private right of action, even though it does not expressly provide for one, so the City could potentially be liable to Ms. Spriesch for its failure to accommodate her as a nursing mother under the INMWA. The City also claimed that Ms. Spriesch’s Title VII pregnancy discrimination claim was time-barred because she filed her EEOC charge well over a year after she was placed on leave for her pregnancy; however, the court found her claim could be timely under a “continuing violation” theory, since other acts of discrimination were alleged to have occurred after that time. The court also allowed Ms. Spriesch to proceed on her IHRA discrimination claim for acts that occurred after date the IHRA was amended (January 1, 2015) to require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for medical and other common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.
This case emphasizes how important it is for school districts, as employers, to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant and nursing employees. Otherwise, a district may face liability under a number of federal and state laws. The footnotes in the sample PRESS Policy 5:10, Equal Opportunity and Minority Recruitment, as well PRESS administrative procedure 5:10-AP, Workplace Accommodations for Working Mothers, provide further information about the legal requirements for such accommodations.