Last week, in the case of Young v. United Parcel Service, the Supreme Court ruled the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal’s dismissal of Peggy Young's pregnancy-discrimination claim against UPS was in error, allowing her suit to proceed.
After Peggy became pregnant in 2006, she came to work with a doctor's order not to lift over 20lbs - which was less than the 70lbs required by UPS. Instead of issuing light duty, UPS forced her to take unpaid leave. Peggy filed suit under the provisions of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act alleging UPS granted light duty to other groups of employees with similar doctor's orders. On appeal to the Fourth Circuit, the Court held for UPS and dismissed Young’s claim. Young appealed to the Supreme Court who held: “Young also introduced evidence that UPS had three separate accommodation policies (on-the-job, ADA, DOT). Taken together, Young argued, these policies significantly burdened pregnant women.… That is, why, when the employer accommodated so many, could it not accommodate pregnant women as well?” For the full opinion, see the Supreme Court story.This decision adds to the list of recent protections for pregnant women. Changes were made to the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2008 to cover temporary and permanent disabilities, and in 2014 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission gave guidance that required accommodations for pregnant workers. The ruling in Young's case will also likely add some muscle to the 1987 Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
The ruling in Young v. UPS clearly illustrated that employers can't refuse accommodations for pregnant workers based on cost or convenience while they are accommodating other employees. Young's case was built upon UPS's management of disabled employees. If UPS had taken the approach of assessing all adjustments and accommodations given to injured or disabled employees, and built a pregnancy policy based on those procedures, they could have avoided this lawsuit.
This is an opportunity for companies to assess their management of injuries, disabled employees, and any other party needing reasonable work adjustments to ensure fair treatment of all employees. Evaluate any categorical exclusion of pregnant women and policies that appear neutral around pregnancy. Going forward, employers must have substantial reason to deny light duty when it's available to other employees who are similarly affected in their ability to work. Carefully consider any reason for exclusion and how many non-pregnant employees are given accommodation within your policies.
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