Law School Case Brief
Terry v. Helfgott - 2016 D.C. Super. LEXIS 2
The D.C. Protecting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, D.C. Code § 32-1231.01 et seq., anticipates that pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions may require employees to take time away from work. It specifically prohibits employers from taking adverse action against an employee who requests or uses a reasonable accommodation in regard to the employee's conditions or privileges of employment, including failing to reinstate the employee when the need for reasonable accommodations ceases to the employee's original job or to an equivalent position. D.C. Code § 32-1231.03(2).
An at-will employee may be discharged at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all. The public policy exception to the at-will employment rule is not available where the very statute creating the relied-upon public policy already contains a specific and significant remedy for the party aggrieved by the violation.
Defendant employer filed a motion to dismiss and to strike certain damages claims in plaintiff former employee’s action for violation of the D.C. Protecting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PPWFA) and wrongful termination. The employee’s claims arose from termination from her job after she suffered pregnancy complications, had a miscarriage, and missed approximately five days of work. Shortly after the employee started work for the employer on May 12, 2015, she learned of her pregnancy and informed the employer on June 14, 2015. On June 26, 2015, she left work due to pregnancy-related complications and emergency treatment, and planned to return to work on June 29. The employee did not return to work on June 29 due to a miscarriage, and instead returned on July 2, 2015, following her doctor’s instructions. The employee alleged that she notified her employer of her absences, intended return dates, and provided her doctor’s orders. When she returned to work on July 2, the employer terminated her employment.
The employee alleged that the employer violated the PPWFA by failing to accept her doctor’s certification regarding her five-day absence as a reasonable accommodation under the Act, and that the employer failed to reinstate her to her original position or an equivalent position when her need for reasonable accommodation ceased on July 2. The employee alleged wrongful termination based on the public policy exception to at-will employment for retaliation by the employer for her exercise of her rights under the PPWFA.
Was the employer entitled to dismissal of the employee's claims under the PPWFA and for wrongful termination?
No as to PPWFA claims; yes as to wrong termination.
The court granted in part and denied in part the employer’s motion to dismiss. The court denied the motion to dismiss the PPWFA claim. The PPWFA took effect shortly before the employee’s case arose, and the court found that the PPWFA covered pre-birth pregnancy complications. The court found that the employee pleaded sufficient facts to support two violations of the PPWFA: first, the employer’s failure to engage in good faith with the employee regarding her request for a reasonable accommodation; second, the employer’s adverse action of terminating her employment after she asked for and took temporary time off as the accommodation that made sense given her circumstances.
The court granted the motion to dismiss as to the wrongful termination claim because the PPWFA provided a specific and significant remedy; the employee was thus precluded from invoking the public policy exception to the at-will employee doctrine.
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