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Pregnant Women in the Workforce

A recent decision from the U.S. Supreme Court held pregnant workers may claim the same accommodations which employers grant to similarly restricted workers. In Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. 134 S. Ct. 2898 (U.S. 2014), Peggy Young (“Young”) was employed as a delivery driver for the United Parcel Service (“UPS”). In 2006, she became pregnant. During Young’s pregnancy, her healthcare providers advised her not to lift more than twenty pounds while working. UPS’s employee policy requires their employees to be able to lift up to 70 pounds. Young was unable to fulfill this work requirement. She was denied light duty as a driver because her pregnancy was not the result of an on-the-job injury. She also used all her available family and medical leave. Thus, UPS forced Young to take an extended, unpaid leave of absence, which caused her to lose her medical coverage. Young gave birth in 2007 and subsequently resumed working at UPS.

Young sued UPS, claiming she was the victim of gender and disability based discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. UPS moved for summary judgment, arguing Young could not show UPS’s decision was based on her pregnancy or she was treated differently than a similarly situated co-worker. UPS argued it was not obligated to offer Young an accommodation because pregnancy did not constitute a disability. The district court dismissed Young’s claim and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act required employers to provide the same work accommodations to an employee with pregnancy-related work limitations as are provided to employees with similar, non-pregnancy related work limitations. In it’s ruling, the Supreme Court did not say pregnant workers deserve the same treatment as any similarly restricted worker. Rather, courts must evaluate the extent to which an employer’s policy treats pregnant workers less favorably than non-pregnant workers with similar inabilities to work and determine whether there are legitimate reasons for the differences. If a large number of other workers were accommodated, then pregnant workers would have a strong claim for equal treatment.

The ruling empowers women in the workplace. The court emphasized that employers may not refuse to accommodate pregnant workers based on concerns such as cost or convenience when they accommodate other workers. Employers should be on notice that pregnancy is not a reason to discriminate.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kelly Denham graduated from Loyola Law School in 2012. Ms. Denham’s primary focus at Tyson & Mendes is construction defect litigation. Contact Kelly at 858.263.4117 or kdenham@tysonmendes.com.

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