THORNBERRY, Circuit Judge:
This is a sex discrimination case. Rita Zuniga, an x-ray technician, appeals the decision of the district court that her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were not violated when her employer, Kleberg County Hospital, terminated her employment upon learning that she was pregnant.
In July 1971, Rita Zuniga was hired by Kleberg County Hospital as an x-ray technician. She was the first female x-ray technician ever employed by the Hospital.
On May 8, 1973, Zuniga filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [EEOC] alleging that Kleberg County Hospital's unwritten termination policy for pregnant x-ray technicians discriminated against women on the basis of sex.
On August 14, 1973, Zuniga discovered that she was pregnant and immediately informed Aycock of her condition. Aycock told her that she would have to resign or be fired. His decision was based solely on his concern over the possible effects of exposing the fetus to x-ray radiation, and his fear of a lawsuit against the Hospital by a future child.
Zuniga resigned on August 15, 1973. The Hospital offered her a job as a nurse's aide earning the minimum wage, which was substantially less than she earned as a technician. However, even that position did not become available until more than a month after Zuniga was fired. Although a vacancy did occur in the Hospital's x-ray department after the birth of Zuniga's child, she did not accept the Hospital's offer of reemployment at that time.
On April 23, 1976, the EEOC issued Zuniga a Notice of Right to Sue after informal methods of conciliation had failed. Zuniga filed suit against Kleberg County Hospital on July 20, 1976, alleging violations of section 703(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a),
Zuniga raises two points of error on appeal. First, she argues that she established a prima facie case of sex discrimination below by showing that the Hospital's facially neutral policy of terminating pregnant x-ray technicians burdened women's employment opportunities without affecting those of men. Second, she asserts that the district court erred in finding that the Hospital established a valid business necessity defense to her prima facie case. We shall address these claims in the order in which they were raised.
The scheme of proof in disparate impact cases provides that once the employee has proved a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to show that the discriminatory practice is a "business necessity," Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 431, 91 S.Ct. 849, 853, 28 L.Ed.2d 158 (1971), "necessary to safe and efficient job performance." Dothard v. Rawlinson, 433 U.S. 321, 331 n. 14, 97 S.Ct. 2720, 2728, 53 L.Ed.2d 786 (1977); Clanton v. Orleans Parish School Board, 649 F.2d 1084, 1097-98 (5th Cir.1981). Should the employer meet its burden, the employee can overcome this defense by proving that the stated business necessity is merely a pretext for discrimination. Connecticut v. Teal, 457 U.S. 440, 102 S.Ct. 2525, 2531, 73 L.Ed.2d 130 (1982); Dothard, 433 U.S. at 329, 97 S.Ct. at 2726-27; Albemarle Paper Company v. Moody, 422 U.S. 405, 425-26, 95 S.Ct. 2362, 2375-76, 45 L.Ed.2d 280 (1975); McDonnell Douglas Corporation v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 804-05, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1825-26, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973); see Lerma v. Bolger, 689 F.2d 589 (5th Cir.1982).
A. Prima Facie Case
In General Electric Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125, 97 S.Ct. 401, 50 L.Ed.2d 343 (1976), the Supreme Court held that an employer disability plan which provided non-occupational sickness and accident benefits to all employees but excluded disabilities arising from pregnancy did not violate section 703(a) of Title VII unless the exclusion of pregnancy benefits was shown to be a pretext for discriminating against women.
This alternative means of establishing a violation of section 703(a) was first applied in a sex discrimination case the following year in Nashville Gas Company v. Satty, 434 U.S. 136, 98 S.Ct. 347, 54 L.Ed.2d 356 (1977). There, the Court held that although an employer's policy of denying accumulated seniority to women returning from pregnancy leave was neutral on its face in its treatment of male and female employees, it nevertheless violated section 703(a)(2) because its effect was to discriminate against women. The Court distinguished Gilbert as holding only that women were not entitled to special, additional benefits denied men.
Id. at 142, 97 S.Ct. at 351.
In Clanton v. Orleans Parish School Board, 649 F.2d 1084 (5th Cir.1981), this Court held that a school board's teacher reinstatement policy violated section 703(a)(2) by vesting discretion in the superintendent of schools to determine when a teacher could return from maternity leave, while granting him no concomitant discretion with respect to teachers returning from sick leave. In that case, we read Satty to stand for at least the following two propositions:
Id. at 1096. In Clanton, the Board's unique discretionary reinstatement policy for postpartal teachers conditioned their reemployment in such a manner as to deny them employment opportunities because of their pregnancy. Far from merely withholding from women potential benefits that men could not enjoy, this policy actually imposed
Applying the rules of Satty to the facts of the present case, we conclude as a matter of law that Zuniga established a prima facie case of sex discrimination under section 703(a)(2) of Title VII. The Hospital's unwritten policy requiring pregnant x-ray technicians to resign or be terminated without any guarantee of reinstatement deprives them of employment opportunities in the most clear-cut fashion imaginable, by permanently taking away their jobs. Depriving a woman of her job because she is pregnant can in no way be characterized as the withholding of a benefit that men cannot and do not receive. See Satty at 142, 98 S.Ct. at 351. Rather, it imposes on women a heavy burden which no man is ever likely to suffer. The Hospital's policy thus satisfies the requirements of a prima facie case of sex-based discrimination under section 703(a)(2) of Title VII.
Our conclusion that Zuniga made out a prima facie case of sex discrimination under section 703(a)(2) does not, of course, end our inquiry. Here, the Hospital argues that potential harm to the fetus from ionizing radiation and the possibility of a tort suit by a future damaged child constituted a business necessity which justified its termination of Zuniga's employment.
B. Business Necessity Defense
The business necessity defense had its origins in discriminatory hiring cases involving employer reliance on criteria allegedly related to the employee's job performance. In Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 91 S.Ct. 849, 28 L.Ed.2d 158 (1971) the Supreme Court held that a high school diploma requirement and written examination which acted to exclude a disproportionately high number of blacks from employment opportunities was insufficiently related to job performance to qualify as a business necessity. Id. at 431, 91 S.Ct. at 853. Applying the same reasoning in Dothard v. Rawlinson, 433 U.S. 321, 97 S.Ct. 2720, 53 L.Ed.2d 786 (1977), the Court held that statutory height and weight requirements that operated to disqualify a disproportionately high percentage of female applicants for jobs as prison guards were not justified as a business necessity because they had not been shown to be necessary to efficient job performance. Although the Supreme Court has only implied that "business necessity" need not be synonymous with "job-relatedness," see, e.g., Satty, 434 U.S. at 143 n. 5, 98 S.Ct. at 352; Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324, 349, 97 S.Ct. 1843, 1861, 52 L.Ed.2d 396 (1976), at least one circuit has expanded its inquiry beyond the bounds of mere "job-relatedness," asking
C. Less Discriminatory Alternative
We need not consider here whether concern over the health of the fetus and fear of liability for damage to a future child justified Zuniga's termination as "necessary to the safe and efficient operation of the business." Robinson, 444 F.2d at 798.
At the time Zuniga was forced to resign, the Hospital had a formal policy governing leaves of absence. Although this policy applied to all personnel, Hospital administrator Aycock specifically excepted Zuniga from its coverage because he believed it would be too difficult to find a female x-ray technician to replace her temporarily.
We may not, of course, simply disregard the trial court's factual findings. A district court's findings of fact will not be followed only when they are "clearly erroneous." Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a).
United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395, 68 S.Ct. 525, 542, 92 L.Ed. 746 (1948). Similarly,
United States v. Yellow Cab Co., 338 U.S. 338, 342, 70 S.Ct. 177, 179, 94 L.Ed. 150 (1949).
We think the trial court clearly erred in making this finding. Aycock testified at trial that the x-ray department had a high turnover rate, indicating that replacements had been found regularly in the past. When asked how he went about finding these replacements, Aycock testified that his policy was to "call all the people you know, call the schools, call different states all over, and so on ..." but professed ignorance of the existence of an x-ray technician school at Spohn Hospital, a mere 45 miles distant. Zuniga herself attended the x-ray technician school at Spohn before she was hired by Kleberg County Hospital. Aycock could not have tried very hard to determine how difficult it might be to find a replacement for Zuniga. Indeed, when asked if he knew of any x-ray technicians' schools in South Texas, he answered, "Beats the heck out of me. I don't know." We fail to see how a hospital with a high x-ray technician turnover rate, located 45 miles from the x-ray technician school which had supplied its most recently hired employee, could not have found a temporary replacement for that employee during her leave of absence. There is no evidence to show that Aycock even tried to explore the possibility of finding a temporary replacement for Zuniga before he decided that replacing her was just too difficult, and instead ordered her to resign or be fired. The trial court's finding that a vacancy did occur in the Hospital's x-ray department after the birth of Zuniga's child supports our conclusion that the Hospital could have relied upon the "alternate acceptable practice" of granting her a leave of absence with guaranteed reinstatement after her child was born. See Pettway, 494 F.2d at 246. Whatever minor difficulty the Hospital may in fact have encountered in replacing her during the period she was away cannot be accepted as a justification for a practice which does not produce the least discriminatory impact possible.
The trial court also found that the "Hospital's policy of not holding open the position of x-ray technician for employees who took leaves of absence was not unique to Mrs. Zuniga or to women in general." The court cited as the source of this finding a sentence from the "Personnel Policies" memorandum to the effect that the granting of leave was dependent upon whether the employee could be conveniently excused without disrupting the smooth running of the department. We have already concluded that the trial court clearly erred in finding that a temporary replacement for Zuniga could only be found with difficulty. Coupled with Aycock's testimony that he had never denied an application for a leave of absence for medical reasons until Zuniga requested one, this conclusion leads us to reject the finding that the Hospital's policy was not unique to Zuniga.
Further examination of the Hospital's guidelines for leaves of absence reveals that Zuniga presented an exceptionally strong case for such a leave. The "Personnel Policies" memorandum states that "[a] leave of absence may be granted for such reasons as advanced study, personal or family health." (Emphasis added). The prevention of "fetal death, congenital abnormalities, small head, mongolism, or missing organs"
Because the Hospital failed to utilize an alternative, less discriminatory means of achieving its stated goal, its business purpose stands revealed as a pretext, and its business necessity defense must fail. Zuniga's termination, and the resultant controversy, could easily have been avoided by the simple expedient of treating Zuniga no differently from all the other employees eligible under the Hospital's leave of absence policy. The bare assertion that an unexplored, less discriminatory means of achieving an employer's business purpose entails difficulties cannot justify rejecting that alternative in favor of a policy which clearly discriminates against women.
REVERSED AND REMANDED.