Immediate Legal Action – 17 States Commence Lawsuit Seeking to Enjoin Implementation of the Final Regulations Implementing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

On April 25, 2024, Attorneys General from 17 states commenced a lawsuit in federal court against the EEOC seeking to enjoin the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act’s (“PWFA”) final regulations published on April 19, 2024.  The 17 challenging states include Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia.

PWFA Refresher

The PWFA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees (including applicants) with “known limitations” related to, affected by, or arising out of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless the accommodation will cause an undue hardship.

Under PWFA and its implementing regulations, the term “related medical conditions” is defined as “medical conditions which relate to, are affected by, or arise out of pregnancy or childbirth, as applied to the specific employee or applicant in question, including, but not limited to, termination of pregnancy, including via miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion,” among many other conditions.

Nature of the Lawsuit Against the EEOC

The states challenging PWFA’s final regulations take issue with the scope of PWFA’s final regulations, which require an employer to provide reasonable accommodations (absent an undue hardship) for pregnancy related medical conditions, which expressly includes “termination of pregnancy,” including via “abortion.” Calling the final regulations an “unprecedented and unlawful abortion-accommodation statute,” the challenging states are seeking to invalidate the final regulations.

The challenging states cite to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which held that states have legitimate interests in regulating abortion, including “respect for and preservation of prenatal life at all stages of development.”  The challenging states argue that the EEOC’s final regulations “vitiate” theses interests by requiring states to “facilitate elective abortions they have chosen to proscribe or else face federal lawsuits for money damages and injunctive relief.”

The challenging states are asking the Court to stay the effective date (June 18, 2024) of the final regulations pending judicial review, to enjoin the EEOC’s enforcement of the final regulation’s “abortion-accommodation mandate,” and to declare the “abortion-accommodation mandate” unlawful.

EEOC’s Position

While the EEOC has not yet answered the Complaint filed by the challenging states, the EEOC did address the public comments that were submitted in response to the proposed regulations on the issue of including abortion in the definition of a pregnancy related medical condition.  The EEOC indicated, among other comments, that PWFA is a workplace anti-discrimination law that does not regulate or mandate the provision of abortion services or mandate when and under what circumstances an abortion is permissible.

Bottom Line

Minnesota is not one of the states challenging the lawfulness of the final regulations.  Nevertheless, any stay of the effective date of the final regulations or injunction of the abortion-accommodation portion of the final regulations, will have an impact on Minnesota employers with 15 or more employees subject to PWFA.  Felhaber will continue to monitor the lawsuit as it progresses and provide updates where appropriate regarding the implementation and scope of PWFA’s final regulations.