U.S. SUPREME COURT WEIGHS IN ON ACCOMMODATION DURING PREGNANCY

On March 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court released its decision in Young v. United Parcel Service, 135 S. Ct. 1338; 191 L. Ed. 2d 279 (2015), providing direction to employers with regard to accommodating pregnant employees.  In light of this recent decision, employers may be required to rethink their approach to accommodating pregnant employees. 

In the Young case, the employee, a delivery driver for UPS, was unable to perform her job duties during her pregnancy due to lifting restrictions.  She requested a temporary light duty assignment, but UPS denied her request and placed her on an unpaid leave of absence instead.  UPS’ policy provided for temporary modified work assignments only for drivers who 1) were injured on the job; 2) suffered from a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act; or 3) lost their Department of Transportation certification.  As Young did not fall within any of these categories, UPS declined to accommodate her pregnancy restrictions.  Young filed suit, alleging that she was being treated differently than non-pregnant employees, in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.  The lower court agreed with UPS, and dismissed Young’s case.

In reviewing the case, the Supreme Court determined that a pregnant employee may be able demonstrate discrimination if the employer accommodates other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work, but refuses to provide an accommodation based solely upon pregnancy.  If the employer denies an accommodation to a pregnant employee, the employer must provide a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for denying the requested accommodation to the pregnant employee.  However, the pregnant employee may still prevail if the employee can demonstrate that the employer’s policies with regard to pregnancy accommodation impose a “significant burden” on pregnant workers, and the employer’s legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons are not sufficiently strong to justify the burden imposed on pregnant workers. 

So what should an employer do in light of the Young v UPS case?  Employers should not only review their accommodation policies, but also review the reasons behind any policy that might impose an undue burden on pregnant employees.  If a policy makes accommodations for some workers but not for others, it would be prudent to consider what accommodations might be made for a pregnant employee in order to avoid running afoul of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.  

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