Fired for postpartum depression?
An employee who provided customer assistance to healthcare patients and pharmacists soon found herself in need of an advocate for her own disability case.
A reimbursement case advocate, Meron Debru, informed her employer (The Lash Group Inc.) of her pregnancy and requested short-term disability leave for the birth of her child. Her doctor was concerned that Debru was suffering from postpartum depression and did not release her to return to work, and for nearly five months after her short-term disability ended, she was unable to work because of the postpartum depression, which is considered a disability related to childbirth and is protected by the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).
The company filled Debru’s position about three months into her leave and sent her a letter of termination, stating that she had exhausted her FMLA leave and because she had taken more than six months’ leave, which was not true. Debru protested to the human resources manager, and the company sent a new letter stating that she had exhausted her allowable FMLA leave, but that she could apply for other open positions with the company.
She was eventually released to return to work by her physician and was forced to compete for vacant positions. After applying for three positions for which she was qualified, the company still had not hired her, and they once again formally terminated her.
Postpartum Depression: EEOC Response
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) took on Debru’s case (EEOC v. The Lash Group) and won.
The EEOC proved the company had refused to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee with postpartum depression and instead fired her because of her disability.
(To be clear, the ADA does not classify pregnancy as a disability, but any pregnancy-related disabilities, such as postpartum depression, are considered disabilities for which employers must provide reasonable accommodation.)
Lessons Learned from EEOC v. The Lash Group
Employers must provide reasonable accommodation to women who experience pregnancy-related disabilities
- Reasonable accommodation can include the extension of unpaid leave or transferring the employee to a vacant position for which she is qualified
- Forcing an employee to try to find a new position within the company on her own does not meet an employer’s obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation
Case Outcomes from EEOC v. The Lash Group
Monetary fine: $75,000
- Provide reasonable accommodation going forward
- Revise its family and medical leave and short-term disability benefits policies and procedures to address reasonable accommodations
- Notify employees that they may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation (including unpaid leave) and how to request such an accommodation
- Provide training on the ADA and reasonable accommodations to human resources personnel, leave coordinators and managers
- Report to the EEOC on how it handles future reasonable accommodation requests
- Post a notice regarding the resolution of this lawsuit
What is Postpartum Depression?
Approximately 15 percent of all new mothers experience intense issues known as postpartum depression whose symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Intense irritability and anger
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Loss of interest in sex
- Lack of joy in life
- Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Severe mood swings
- Difficulty bonding with the baby
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Thoughts of harming self or baby
Untreated, postpartum depression may last for many months or longer.