Yarelyn Mena and Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.
On April 27, 2016, the Second Circuit decided Legg et al. v. Ulster County et al., in which it reversed the Northern District of New York’s decision at summary judgment dismissing a pregnancy discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Legg arose after Ann Marie Legg, a corrections officer at the Ulster County Jail (“Ulster Jail”), requested an accommodation under Ulster Jail’s “light duty” policy. Ulster Jail’s light duty policy allows employees suffering from medical conditions resulting from a line-of-duty injury to be reassigned to deskwork, i.e., to positions that do not include inmate contact. Under the policy, pregnant women are not eligible for light duty; they must either continue to work “full duty,” use accrued sick or vacation time, or take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
In 2008, Ms. Legg became pregnant. Her doctor told her that her pregnancy was “high risk” and recommended that she “shouldn’t have direct contact with inmates.” In accordance with her doctors’ recommendation, she requested that Ulster Jail allow her to work light duty and submitted a doctors’ note in support. Although at first Ms. Legg received a denial letter in July 2008 stating that “[e]mployees are afforded light duty assignments at the Sheriff’s discretion for work-related injuries/illnesses only,” she was later informed that Ulster Jail would grant her request once she submitted a revised doctors’ note indicating that she was in fact able to work without restriction. Ms. Legg complied and submitted the letter. For a time, Ulster Jail assigned Ms. Legg to light work; however, around August 2008, they forced her to work with inmates again. In November 2008, Ms. Legg, now seven months pregnant, was caught in the middle of a physical fight between two inmates during which one inmate bumped into her as he ran past her. After this incident, Ms. Legg did not return to work until after she gave birth. Upon returning to work, Ms. Legg brought a lawsuit against Ulster Jail alleging pregnancy discrimination for denying her request for light duty. Ulster Jail moved for summary judgment, arguing that light duty was only available for employees injured in line of duty and that all employees regardless of their gender or pregnancy status, were treated the same under that policy. The district court granted Ulster Jails’s motion and dismissed the case.