Maternity Leave New Case Q & A

MATERNITY LEAVE NEW CASE Q & A, 07/06/10

The Ohio Supreme Court has just issued an opinion that restricts a women's right to maternity leave. Here are some useful questions and answers about the new case:

1. If a woman is pregnant is she entitled to maternity leave and for how long?

In an Ohio Supreme Court case just decided a few days ago, a Ms. McFee had recently started working for a company that required one year of employment before eligibility for any leave. Ms. Mcfee became pregnant and prior to completing one year of employment took a leave of absence from work due to medical problems related to her pregnancy. Three days after she delivered her baby she was fired. This case was heard by a total of five different courts or administrative panels. Ms. McFee won at two of the Court hearings but unfortunately for Ms. McFee she lost in the last court, the Ohio Supreme Court. The Ohio Supreme court held that there is no requirement for an employer to provide maternity leave under the Ohio sex discrimination statute.

2. Is there any protection under Federal law?

According to the Ohio Supreme Court the Federal law, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Ohio law give the same result. There is no requirement for maternity leave under the sex discrimination laws. Also the Family Medical Leave Act which would require up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave only applies to employers who have more than 50 employees and the employee must have worked for at least one year to qualify.

3. Does this mean that if a pregnant women works for a smaller company they are not entitled to any leave while pregnant?

No. The Ohio Supreme Court stated that if an employer does provide leave for employees generally, then leave must be allowed for pregnancy and the amount of leave must be reasonable. Many small employers already provide some leave so under Ohio law they will have to provide maternity leave. However, it is now clear that if an employer has a rule such as you have to be employed for over a year to qualify for leave, it applies to pregnant employees also.

As an aside, the lone dissenting Supreme Court justice noted that Ms McFee was actually offered her job back three weeks after she was fired. However, this litigation went through five hearings over five years, involving five law firms representing both sides plus the attorney general's office.