A New Baby After Taking a New Job? That Could be a Problem in Ohio

Filed under: In The News, Weird But True

In Ohio, your maternity leave might be permanent. Credit: Getty Images

Even in the enlightened, family-friendly world of 2010, you can still get fired for getting pregnant.

In Ohio, anyway.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled this week that companies can fire relatively new employees who take time off for pregnancy.

Justices ruled 5-1 that new employees risk getting fired when they take extended leaves for any reason. It's not discriminating against women to include pregnancy leaves, they decided.

The case came before the court because nurse Tiffany McFee was fired from her job in Pataskala, a town of 10,000 located 22 miles east of Columbus. The Pataskala Oaks Care Center fired her because she took pregnancy leave eight months after being hired. Nursing home policy requires employees to be on the job a year before taking an extended leave.

The Columbus Dispatch reports justices ruled that as long as company policies apply to everyone and don't make distinctions between extended leaves for pregnancy and other medical purposes, employers are within their rights to give pregnant women the boot.

New moms are not faring well with Ohio's high court.
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Just last August, the Dispatch reports, justices ruled employers can fire lactating employees who take unauthorized work breaks to express their breast milk.

Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, tells the Dispatch both rulings punish working women for having children. (NARAL, formerly the National Abortion & Reproductive Rights Action League, is now no longer considered an official acronym)

"This is appalling," Copeland tells the newspaper. "We should be having policies in place that allow people to have children and not lose their jobs because they choose to have a child. This illustrates a major hole in Ohio law. There is no protection for women in this type of situation."

While many businesses are required to accommodate pregnant workers under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the federal law.

There's a good reason for that, Tom Tarpy, a Columbus lawyer who represents employers, tells the Dispatch. Extended leaves can cripple small businesses, he says.

"Whether or not a person's unexpected leave is due to pregnancy or a heart condition or a broken leg, those circumstances affect small businesses very differently when you have one-fifth of your work force out on leave," Tarpy tells the newspaper.

Justice Robert R. Cupp, writing for the majority, said the nursing home's policy was clear and objective.

"Pataskala Oaks' length-of-service requirements treat all employees the same," Cupp writes. "Every employee must reach 12 months of employment before becoming eligible for leave. In this sense, the policy is 'pregnancy-blind.' "

The sole dissenting opinion came from Justice Paul E. Pfeifer.

In his dissent, Pfeifer concluded that even if the leave policy was written to treat pregnancy the same as any other disabling condition, it still discriminates against women.

"Pursuant to the Pataskala Oaks employment policy, there was no maternity leave available to McFee," Pfeifer writes in his dissent. "Therefore, her termination constituted direct evidence of unlawful sex discrimination."

Related: Returning to Work After Maternity Leave Requires Balance

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