A former FedEx employee’s “disparate impact” claim can advance to trial under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The plaintiff, Cassandra Adduci, began working at the Memphis hub for FedEx on January 6th, 2014. She was promoted to the position of Material Handler on August 17th, 2014. Per company policy, her duties included loading and unloading aircraft, containers, and FedEx vehicles, as well as being able to lift 75 pounds unassisted.
In December of that year, Adduci became pregnant and notified her supervisor on December 17th. She also informed him that she had a 15-pound restriction on lifting. Her supervisor requested for her to present medical documentation of the restriction, and on December 24th she presented a doctor’s note indicating a 25-pound restriction, which was to be reduced to 20 pounds later in the pregnancy. Later that same day, her supervisor and a Senior Manager met with her to inform her that she could not continue working because her restriction prevented her from being able to fulfill the job requirement of lifting 75 pounds unassisted. At that time, the Air Freight Ground Services division where Adduci was working part-time maintained a policy that its part-time employees who were placed on non-work related medical leave were ineligible to return to work through their temporary assignments program (TWR).
Adduci was placed on unpaid medical leave by her employers on December 26th, 2014. The company cited safety concerns for herself and other employees if she continued working against doctor’s restrictions. She was also considered by the company to be on FMLA leave effective the same date. That day, the HR manager sent Adduci a memorandum detailing the expectation for her to communicate with them while she was on leave. Other obligations included providing FedEx with a “current treating physician’s statement substantiating continued absence beyond your expected release date, or every 30 days, whichever [was] earlier”.
While on leave, Adduci received several letters from the HR advisor requesting updates to her status. The first letter was dated February 4th, 2015. Adduci responded to this request on March 2nd, 2015 by providing a doctor’s note. The second letter from HR, dated April 2nd, 2015, advised her that “operational necessity” may have required for her position to be replaced or eliminated. A third letter, also dated April 2nd, states that her medical leave would end on June 23rd of that year per company policy, and she could apply for other positions at the company if she could not meet the requirements for a Materials Handler. The final letter, dated April 29th, 2015, stated that she had failed to provide medical documentation to verify her continued need to be absent and if she didn’t provide such documentation by May 6th, 2015, it would be considered her voluntary resignation. Adduci did not respond to the letter or provide the requested documentation because she considered the letters to be “harassment”. Her employment was terminated effective May 7th, 2015. The notice stated that there was no work available in the offload/reload area that didn’t require lifting in excess of 25 pounds.
Though her disparate treatment claim failed, Adduci’s disparate impact claim can advance to trial. Evidence was presented to the court which showed FedEx’s policy had an adverse impact on pregnant women – this is because 100% of their TWR requests had been denied. However, there were similarly situated employees (working in the same area, also part-time) whose TWR requests had not been denied. This indicated that the policy had an adverse impact on a protected group.
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