Excerpted from a Phelps Dunbar LLP Blog by Maritza Sanchez

A federal judge in Texas placed constraints on the enforcement of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) in the state on Feb. 27, citing a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s quorum requirements. The PWFA was passed by Congress in late 2022, as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023, to provide “reasonable accommodations” to a worker’s known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, unless the accommodation will cause the employer an “undue hardship.” Following the filing of the lawsuit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released proposed regulations on Aug. 7, 2023, to implement the PWFA.

Texas took legal action against the Justice Department, the EEOC and other agencies, seeking to block the enforcement of the PWFA within the state. The state argued that the PWFA should not be enforced because it passed by a proxy vote that violated the U.S. Constitution’s Quorum Clause, which requires a physical majority of members in the House of Representatives to pass legislation. The state contended that a rule passed in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic which allows non-present House members to be included in the quorum count and vote by proxy was unconstitutional.

Judge James Wesley Hendrix of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Lubbock Division, ruled in favor of the state. Judge Hendrix found that Texas “carried its burden to show its entitlement to a permanent injunction of the [PWFA]” and enjoined the agencies, including the Justice Department and the EEOC, from enforcing the PWFA in Texas. The judge’s decision is based on the conclusion “that the Quorum Clause bars the creation of a quorum by including non-present members participating by proxy.”

This order goes into effect on March 5, 2024. The order has been stayed for seven days from the date of entry to allow the defendants to file an appeal.

As the legal landscape continues to evolve, employers in Texas should stay informed about developments related to the PWFA and be prepared to adjust their policies and procedures accordingly. The recent ruling by Judge Hendrix limiting the enforcement of the PWFA in Texas and the ongoing debates surrounding the PWFA underscore the complexity and sensitivity of issues related to pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

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