Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Pregnant Employees: Young v. UPS

The Supreme Court recently issued a ruling which dramatically changes the accommodations that many employers provide to their employees.  It is common for employers to provide accommodations, such as light duty, to employees who are eligible for workers’ compensation because of an on the job injury.  Typically employers have not extended these same accommodations to pregnant employees who have workplace restrictions.

In Young, the plaintiff was a part-time driver for UPS who was placed on a 20-pound lifting restriction after she became pregnant.  The position required the ability to lift 70 pounds.  UPS refused to provide Young with an accommodation, instead placing her on leave without pay.

UPS did not provide such accommodations to pregnant employees; rather, it only provided accommodations to drivers who were injured on the job and drivers who suffered from a disability under the ADA. (It also provided accommodations to those who lost their DOT certifications.)

Young sued, arguing that UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The PDA provides that pregnant women have the right to be treated the same as others who are “similar in their ability or inability to work” but “not so affected” by pregnancy.

Before the Supreme Court, UPS argued that its policy was pregnancy blind because it did not consider or take pregnancy into account; rather, UPS only considered whether someone was injured at work, had a disability, or lost DOT certification.  Therefore, according to UPS the policy did not violate the PDA. The Supreme Court disagreed with UPS’s position.

Young argued that because UPS had provided other employees with an accommodation, it must likewise provide her with an accommodation.  However, the Court rejected Young’s argument as too broad an application of the PDA.

Instead, the Court crafted an approach which provides that an employer, absent a legitimate non-discriminatory reason, must provide a pregnant employee with the same accommodation it provides to others with a “similar ability or inability to work.”

Inconvenience or cost will not qualify as a legitimate non-discriminatory reason.  By way of example, an employer cannot rely on the fact that there is a cost incentive to provide workers compensation claimants with an accommodation, but there is a significant cost to employers to provide the same type of accommodation to pregnant employees.

The Court provided some possible legitimate non-discriminatory reasons based upon job class, the employer’s needs or employee seniority. Thus, it is not the case that every pregnant employee will be entitled to the exact same accommodation previously offered to another employee, as Young had argued.

Employers should review their accommodation policy and practice.  Employers need to be sure that they are conforming to the law.  The EEOC is focused on this issue and prepared to litigate on behalf of aggrieved employees.

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