Apr 03, 2015

Rethinking Pregnancy Accommodations

Employers may want to revisit their policies and practices on pregnancy accommodations after the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Young v. United Parcel Service. Although it did not set a bright-line rule, the high court’s interpretation may allow more employees to maintain a lawsuit brought under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (“PDA”). Employers may violate the PDA if they do not offer pregnant employees accommodations that they offer to other employees similar in their ability or inability to work.

In Young, a part-time UPS driver requested “light duty” accommodations when her doctor recommended that she lift no more than 10 pounds in the latter stage of her pregnancy.  UPS denied Young’s request, because the job required her to lift up to 70 pounds, and placed her on unpaid leave.  Eventually Young lost her employee medical coverage.  Young filed suit, alleging that UPS had discriminated against her in violation of the PDA.  Young argued that because UPS had previously accommodated other drivers, such as drivers who suffered from a disability and those who lost their DOT certification, then she too deserved an accommodation.

The Supreme Court held that a pregnant employee may state a prima facie case of disparate treatment pregnancy discrimination by showing that (1) she belongs to the protected class, (2) she sought an accommodation, (3) the employer did not accommodate her, and (4) the employer accommodated others “similar in their ability or inability to work.”

The employer may offer a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for denying the accommodation; however, the employer cannot argue that it was more expensive or less convenient to accommodate a pregnant employee than it would be to accommodate a non-pregnant employee.

The real crux of the Young decision lies in the employee’s ability to rebut the employer’s reasons as pretext.  The Supreme Court held that a pregnant employee may still reach a jury by showing that the “employer’s policies impose a significant burden on pregnant workers,” and that the employer’s “proffered legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons” are not sufficiently strong to justify that burden.

In light of Young, employers should revisit their existing accommodations policies to ensure that company practices and procedures do not impose any adverse impact on pregnant employees, regardless of individual circumstances.

To learn more about how pregnancy accommodations may affect your company, or if you have any questions about any of the issues discussed in this alert, please contact your Labor and Employment counsel at Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP.

This client alert is intended to inform clients and other interested parties about legal matters of current interest and is not intended as legal advice.

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