Supreme Court Clarifies Test for Disparate Treatment of Pregnant Employees
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes clear that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination applies to discrimination based on pregnancy. On March 15, 2015, the Supreme Court issued a decision in UPS v. Young, No. 12-1226, in which it held that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibited an employer from treating pregnant employees less favorably than it treats non-pregnant workers similar in their ability or inability to work. In the Young case, at issue was a UPS policy wherein UPS only provided light duty or modified duty for employees who were injured on the job or under similar, extremely limited reasons. Employees who were temporarily disabled as a result of non-work-related conditions, including pregnancy and injuries suffered while outside of work, were not provided light duty or modified duty. Young, a part-time driver, had job duties which required that she be able to lift parcels weighing up to 70 pounds. After she became pregnant, her doctor placed lifting restrictions on her which prevented her from performing this job function. Young requested an accommodation for her pregnancy-related lifting restriction, which was denied because Young was neither “disabled,” as that term is defined by the ADA, nor was she injured on the job. The Supreme Court held that Young could establish pregnancy discrimination based on UPS’ failure to accommodate her lifting restriction because, under other circumstances, it accommodated other individuals with lifting restrictions. In so doing, it rejected UPS’ argument that the comparable class of persons to Young was individuals unable to perform their job duties as a result of non-work-related conditions. Following this decision, employers should revisit their policies on accommodations for pregnant employees, including light and modified duty, to determine whether they comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Young. Employers who offer accommodations such as light and modified duty only to employees with certain medical conditions or employees injured on the job should be prepared to face additional scrutiny.
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