For those following employment discrimination news – no this is not about Ellen Pao – on March 25, 2015 SCOTUS decided Young vs. United Parcel Service (UPS). I would describe this result as “expected”, but the clarification from the Court makes an employment attorneys’ advice that much more precise; which is welcome.
A little background: In 2006, during her pregnancy, Peggy Young’s doctor advised her to avoid heavy lifting in her job with UPS. Her employer declined to give her lighter duties to accommodate her needs and she went on unpaid leave. The problem arose because other workers, who had similar limitations and capabilities but who were not pregnant, received accommodations. Ms. Young then sued UPS under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).
UPS successfully argued at the district, and appellate levels (4th circuit) that the PDA did not require pregnant women to be granted the same accommodations as a similarly disabled employee would be entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In the time it took to arrive at the SCOTUS decision Ms. Young’s child is near 9 years old, and UPS has already revised its policy on pregnancy leave.
Better late than never, in a 6-3 SCOTUS decision Ms. Young’s interpretation of the law prevailed. The PDA requires employers to treat “women affected by pregnancy… the same for all employment related purposes… as other person not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” See http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/12-1226_k5fl.pdf. And http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/young-v-united-parcel-service/
This ruling lays out a framework for women to address pregnancy accommodation requests. She must demonstrate she sought an accommodation in the workplace, her employer did not provide the accommodation, and other employees with similar inabilities to perform their jobs were treated more favorably by the employer (such as having an accommodation request granted).
While the Supreme Court’s ruling last Wednesday provides some additional context to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, it does not put an end to Ms. Young’s dilemma. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower courts to apply the newfound framework.
What can employers do to assure their policies comply with this interpretation of the PDA? Taking initiative to evaluate policies to determine whether they create an undue burn on pregnant women should be a priority. The term “undue burden” is somewhat vague, but if you have accommodated people with similar capabilities that are not pregnant, you could be in trouble. If you have questions about pregnancy accommodation requests it is wise to seek legal counsel to help revise any leave or accommodation policy.