While it has been illegal to discriminate against pregnant workers for many years, this fact has been little help to many women who have been denied accommodation of their pregnancy by their employer. That's right, there has never been a clear decision from the Supreme Court on the issue of whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act actually requires companies to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee based solely on her pregnancy. Many employers, including UPS, have refused women any help or accommodation due to pregnancy. Last week the Supreme Court finally heard argument on the issue. Oral argument was held December 3, 2014. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA") provides that "women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes . . . as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work." 42 U.S.C. §2000e(k). In this case the Court will decide whether, and in what circumstances, an employer that provides work accommodations to nonpregnant employees with work limitations must provide work accommodations to pregnant employees who are "similar in their ability or inability to work." Below the district court and Fourth Circuit ruled in favor UPS.
Peggy Young was employed as a delivery driver for the United Parcel Service (UPS). In 2006, she requested a leave of absence in order to undergo in vitro fertilization. The procedure was successful and Young became pregnant. During her pregnancy, Young’s medical practitioners advised her to not lift more than twenty pounds while working. UPS’s employee policy requires their employees to be able to lift up to seventy pounds. Due to Young’s inability to fulfill this work requirement, as well as the fact that she had used all her available family/medical leave, UPS forced Young to take an extended, unpaid leave of absence. During this time she eventually lost her medical coverage. Young gave birth in April 2007 and resumed working at UPS thereafter.
Young sued UPS and claimed she had been the victim of gender- and disability-based discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. UPS moved for summary judgment and argued that Young could not show that UPS’s decision was based on her pregnancy or that she was treated differently than a similarly situated co-worker. Furthermore, UPS argued it had no obligation to offer Young accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act because Young’s pregnancy did not constitute a disability. The district court dismissed Young’s claim. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed.
Playing Field Changes while Case is Pending
While this case has been ongoing, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new pregnancy accommodation guidelines stating that employers should accommodate the physical restrictions of women with normal, uncomplicated pregnancies as if those women had protected disabilities and a growing number of states have passed laws mandating reasonable accommodations of pregnant workers.
Most legal commentators (including this one) appear to believe the court should find in favor of pregnant employees in this case and require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. The question then becomes a case-by-case analysis on the nature and degree of accommodation required. This is a similar analysis to what is required in other accommodation-related cases.