On January 5, 2018, the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services (DOES) issued a decision in favor of Maria Fuentes, represented by Gilbert Employment Law, P.C. and found that Vador Ventures, Inc. d/b/a Total Quality Building Services (“Total Quality”), violated the Protecting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act of 2014 (“PPFWA”) when it prohibited Ms. Fuentes from returning to the workplace after she requested an accommodation related to her pregnancy and pregnancy related conditions. DOES awarded Ms. Fuentes full backpay and reasonable attorneys’ fees and ordered Total Quality to pay a $3,000 penalty to the Pregnant Workers Protection Fund.
In March 2017, Ms. Fuentes, a cleaner, began experiencing severe back pain as a result of her pregnancy. Her doctor recommended that, due to her pregnancy and pregnancy related conditions, Ms. Fuentes be accommodated in the workplace, including avoiding excessive bending or squatting. On March 27, 2017, Ms. Fuentes provided a doctor’s note setting forth her restrictions to Total Quality. DOES found that, pursuant to her doctor’s recommendation, Ms. Fuentes could perform the majority of her duties and the only duty that Ms. Fuentes could not perform was cleaning the bathrooms. The same day, Total Quality informed Ms. Fuentes that she could no longer continue her employment unless her doctor authorized her to work without restriction. DOES found that Total Quality “show[ed] an unwillingness to reasonably accommodate [Ms. Fuentes]” when it refused to allow Ms. Fuentes to work “unless she provided a medical note releasing her to full-duty.” DOES further found that Total Quality could have provided an accommodation such as a “switch in bathroom duties between employees,” which would not have posed an undue hardship to Total Quality.
The PPFWA was designed to address the concern that all-too-often vulnerable, pregnant employees, like Ms. Fuentes, were placed on leave or terminated from employment when they could continue performing their duties with a reasonable accommodation. The PPFWA was intended to expand protections to pregnant workers to ensure they are able to maintain their jobs during a time they are most in need of stable employment. The decision by DOES will further the purpose of PPFWA and will encourage employers to comply with the law and provide appropriate accommodations to pregnant employees.