Plaintiff Jennifer Latowski was a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) for North Woods’ Nursing Center in Farwell, Michigan. When the employer learned she became pregnant, they required her to get a doctor’s note stating that she had no physical restrictions in order to continue working. They did this even though Jennifer had not asked for any restrictions or accommodations, and was fully capable of performing her job. However, after her physician faxed a note stating, “No restrictions except no lifting over 50 lbs.,” North Woods fired her because of this restriction.
The judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed the case, and Jennifer appealed. In an opinion issued on December 23, 2013, a 3-judge panel for the Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit unanimously reversed, and reinstated the case.
Two factors significantly impacted the decision. First, the court held that “A reasonable jury could easily conclude that North Woods’ business decision – to implement a policy terminating otherwise qualified workers whose doctors imposed any restrictions arising from non-workplace injuries, even if those restrictions do not limit the employees’ ability to competently perform their jobs – is so lacking in merit as to be a pretext for discrimination.” Second, they held that certain comments that Jennifer’s superiors made could be evidence of discrimination, including, “You don’t want to lose your baby,” “We would be liable if something happened to your baby,” and “Your belly would be in the way” of performing your job.
Pending any further appeal, the case will be remanded back to the district court judge with instructions to schedule the case for jury trial.
The case was litigated and argued by Nicholas Roumel, and briefed in the Court of Appeals by Edward Macey of NachtLaw in Ann Arbor. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, represented by Elizabeth Theran, filed an “amicus curiae” (friend of the court) brief.