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Employers Should Consider Light Duty For Pregnant Employees

The Supreme Court Rules on Pregnancy Discrimination

On March 25, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Young v. UPS, a pregnancy discrimination case regarding failure to accommodate light-duty restrictions.

Plaintiff Young was a part-time driver for UPS when she became pregnant in 2006. While drivers were required to lift up to 70 pounds, Young’s doctor restricted her lifting to no more than 20 pounds. Her workplace’s collective bargaining agreement only made alternate assignments available to those injured on the job. Further provisions were made to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and to provide “inside jobs” for drivers who failed their Department of Transportation (DOT) medical exam.

Young, however, was denied accommodation and furthermore told by her supervisor that she was “too much of a liability” She was told she could not return to work until she was no longer pregnant. Young thus left work and came back two months after the birth of her child.

As a result, Young filed a federal lawsuit, claiming that UPS acted unlawfully in refusing to accommodate her pregnancy-related lifting restriction.  The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy. The law states that employers must treat pregnant women the same in employment-related purposes as other people who are not pregnant, but similar in either their ability or inability to work.

The trial court and the court of appeals both ruled in favor of UPS because the light duty policies did not explicitly discriminate against pregnant employees. However, the Supreme Court ultimately reversed this decision and ruled in favor of Young. Per the Court’s findings, Young was entitled to a trial on her claims against UPS because the company did accommodate similarly-situated, non-pregnant workers, while failing to accommodate Young.

The effects of this decision reached the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which issued an Updated Enforcement Guidance related to Pregnancy Discrimination in light of Young v. UPS.  The new Guidance includes a discussion of Young as it relates to cases where the pregnant employee seeks “equal access to benefits;” specifically, light duty.  Focusing on who is a “similarly situated employee” the Guidance states: “For purposes of the prima facie case, the plaintiff does not need to point to an employee that is ‘similar in all but the protected ways.’  For example, the plaintiff could satisfy her prima facie burden by identifying “an employee” who was similar in his or her ability (or inability) to work due to impairment (e.g. an employee with a lifting restriction) and who was provided an accommodation that the pregnant employee sought.”

The Enforcement Guideline also discussed the effect that the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) had on pregnancy discrimination cases. While pregnancy alone is still no considered a “disability” as defined by the ADA, impairments related to pregnancy can qualify as a disability.  For example, pregnancy-related diabetes or high blood pressure.  Thus, as with any employee who is disabled, employers are required to provide “reasonable accommodations” to employees with pregnancy-related disabilities.   Although temporary, the impairments caused by pregnancy can be considered a disability. Thus pregnant workers with medical restrictions may claim protection under the ADA.

 

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