The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Has Been Blocked – But Only as to the State of Texas!


What happened, and what does that mean for employers elsewhere? Following passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023), Texas sued to enjoin the law. On February 27, 2024, in State of Texas v. Garland, a federal district court in Texas ruled that the passage of the PWFA violated the Constitution. However, because Texas requested an injunction of the law only as applied to itself, the court’s ruling was limited to the State and its agencies, meaning that the law still is in effect for private employers in Texas as well as all covered employers (meaning those with at least 15 employees) in all other states.

Background of the PWFA. As we reported in our December 2022 E-Update, the PFWA protects individuals with “known limitations,” meaning a physical or mental health condition arising from pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition, whether or not the condition constitutes an disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy/childbirth-related limitations, absent an undue hardship.

The law went into effect on June 27, 2023, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began enforcement of the PWFA at that time. On August 7, 2023, the EEOC issued proposed regulations that explained how it plans to interpret employers’ obligations under the law. Of concern to employers, these proposed regulations contemplate extremely broad and onerous obligations for employers, as we discussed in our August 9, 2023 E-lert. Unsurprisingly, the law was subject to immediate legal challenge.

The Court’s Decision. The court’s decision turned on the Constitution’s Quorum Clause, which requires a majority of members of the House or Senate to be physically present in order to constitute the necessary quorum (or majority percentage) to pass legislation. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the House implemented a rule that allowed its non-present members to vote by proxy. And it was pursuant to this rule that the PWFA was passed.

The court agreed with Texas that Congress violated the Constitution when it included absent members in the quorum count for passage of the PWFA. However, because Texas requested an injunction only on its own behalf, the court prohibited enforcement of the law by the EEOC only as to the State of Texas, leaving it in effect as to all other covered employers.

What This Means for Employers. This case provides a game plan for other plaintiffs to challenge the law and seek a broader or even nationwide injunction. Of course, the decision may (and, we venture to say, will likely) be appealed by the federal government to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Consequently, the long-term prospects of this law are uncertain, particularly if there is a change in Presidential administration with the next election.

For the time being, however, covered employers are required to comply with the PWFA, even though the EEOC has not yet issued final regulations. Pending those regulations, the EEOC has published general guidance on the law, as discussed in our March 2023 E-Update.