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Friday, April 24, 2015

Supreme Court Provides Accommodation Protection for Pregnant Employees

The United States Supreme Court held, in a March 25, 2015 decision, that employers must either accommodate pregnant employees to the same degree as they accommodate other employees “similar in their ability or inability to work,” or show a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for refusing to do so.  Young v. United Parcel Service, 135 S.Ct. 1338, 575 U.S. ___ (2015).  This means that if employers allow such accommodations as light duty assignments, leave or flextime for employees with temporary disabilities, on-the-job injuries, or otherwise, then they likely must offer the same accommodations to similarly situated pregnant employees or face potential liability under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act unless they have a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for refusing.  An undue burden on the employer may constitute such a reason.

Young represents a shift in the law in that it allows pregnant employees to demand the same treatment that is being offered to disabled, injured, aged, or other employees whose work ability is comparable to the pregnant employee’s.  The employee need not have direct evidence of discriminatory statements or animus, but only circumstantial evidence to meet her burden of proof that she was treated differently than others who were similarly unable to perform their job functions.  For example, the pregnant UPS driver in Young offered statistical evidence of how often pregnant versus non-pregnant employees were allowed to work under lifting restrictions to create an inference that UPS’s stated reason for placing her on unpaid leave (a 70-pound lifting requirement) was only a pretext for pregnancy discrimination.

Therefore, Young is a reminder that care must be taken when applying an employer’s workplace accommodation policies to pregnant employees.  Employers should consider whether to revise their light duty policies and, if faced with specific situations involving possible accommodations for pregnant employees, employees should carefully analyze how employees with similar restrictions are accommodated.

As always, the foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation and should not be relied on as such.  Please contact one of our labor and employment lawyers if you have any questions.

This update was prepared by Charles S. Elbert, D. Leo Human, and Erin M. Leach.


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