138 F.3d 204 (5th Cir. 1998), 96-21115, Urbano v. Continental Airlines, Inc.

Docket Nº:96-21115.
Citation:138 F.3d 204
Party Name:Mirtha URBANO, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CONTINENTAL AIRLINES, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:April 15, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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138 F.3d 204 (5th Cir. 1998)

Mirtha URBANO, Plaintiff-Appellant,



No. 96-21115.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

April 15, 1998

Elizabeth Bohorquez, Houston, TX, Douglas H. Maddux, Jr., Humble, TX, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Robin Elizabeth Curtis, Margaret Coullard Phillips, Continental Airlines, Houston, TX, for Defendant-Appellee.

Donna R. Lenhoff, Rebecca Epstein, Women's Legal Defense Fund, Washington, DC, for Women's Legal Defense Fund, Amicus Curiae.

Sara Mandelbaum, American Civil Liberties Union, New York City, for American Civil Liberties Union Foundation Women's Right Project, Amicus Curiae.

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Jeffrey P. Hintermeister, Houston, TX, for American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Amicus Curiae.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Before REAVLEY, JONES and BENAVIDES, Circuit Judges.

EDITH H. JONES, Circuit Judge:

Appellant Urbano challenges the district court's holding that a company policy of granting light-duty assignments only to workers who suffer occupational injuries does not violate Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA"). Because the PDA protects pregnant women only from being treated differently than similarly-situated non-pregnant employees, it does not guarantee light-duty assignments. We affirm the judgment as a matter of law for Continental Airlines, Inc.


In 1990, Mirtha Urbano began working for Continental Airlines in various capacities, most recently as a Ticketing Sales Agent. In that job, she assisted customers with sales and checking-in passengers and their baggage, often lifting loads in excess of twenty pounds.

In October of 1994, Urbano learned she was pregnant. Shortly thereafter, she began suffering low-back discomfort and went to see her doctor. The doctor ordered her to refrain from lifting anything over twenty pounds for the balance of her pregnancy.

Pursuant to these instructions, Urbano requested to work in a Service Center Agent position, which does not require employees to lift heavy loads. The request was denied because Continental's transitional duty policy grants light-duty assignments only to employees who suffer an occupational injury. Employees with a nonoccupational injury or illness who would like a less physically demanding position must go through Continental's normal duty assignment system, in which employees bid for the positions of their choice, and the positions are assigned by seniority. Continental deemed Urbano ineligible under its policy for a mandatory light duty transfer. Unable to return to work and comply with her doctor's restrictions, Urbano was forced to use her accrued sick days, followed by a ninety-day family leave and then unpaid medical leave.

By March of 1995, Urbano filed charges of discrimination with the E.E.O.C. On March 30, 1995, Urbano received her right-to-sue letter and timely filed suit in federal district court, alleging, inter alia, a disparate treatment theory of pregnancy discrimination.

After the district court granted Continental's motion judgment as a matter of law, this appeal followed. 1


This court reviews the grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standards as the district court. See Duffy v. Leading Edge Prods., Inc., 44 F.3d 308, 312 (5th Cir.1995). Summary judgment is appropriate, when, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the record reflects that no genuine issue of any material fact exists, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552-53 (1986); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Once the movant carries his burden, "the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir.1994).


Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act "prohibits various forms of employment discrimination,

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including discrimination on the basis of sex." California Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n v. Guerra, 479 U.S. 272, 276-77, 107 S.Ct. 683, 687, 93 L.Ed.2d 613 (1987). With the passage of the PDA in 1978, Congress amended the definitional section of Title VII as follows:

The terms "because of sex" or "on the basis of sex" include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; and women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work....

42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k) (1994). A claim under the PDA is analyzed like Title VII discrimination claims in general. See Garcia v. Woman's Hosp., 97 F.3d 810, 812-13 (5th Cir.1996).

To establish a prima facie case of discrimination under Title VII, a plaintiff may prove her claim either through direct evidence, statistical proof, or the test established by the Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). The McDonnell Douglas test requires the plaintiff to show: (1) she was a member of a protected class, (2) she was qualified for the position she lost, (3) she suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) that others similarly situated were more favorably treated. See Geier v. Medtronic, Inc., 99 F.3d 238, 241 (7th Cir.1996) (citing McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S.Ct. at 1824). Once the employer articulates a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employment action, however, the scheme of shifting burdens and presumptions "simply drops out of the picture," and "the trier of fact proceeds to decide the ultimate question: whether plaintiff has proved 'that the defendant intentionally discriminated against [her]' because of [her sex]." St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 113 S.Ct. 2742, 125 L.Ed.2d 407 (1993) (internal citation omitted).

The district court found that Urbano failed to establish the second prong of her prima facie case for disparate treatment. Specifically, the district court held that Urbano could not "provide evidence creating a genuine issue as to whether she was qualified for transfer into a light-duty position, i.e., that she sustained a work related injury." Continental also asserts that Urbano failed to offer evidence that she was treated differently under Continental's policy than other employees with non-occupational injuries.

We agree.

Continental treated Urbano in...

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