On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Young v. UPS, an important case addressing pregnancy accommodations in the workplace. What follows is a summary of how the case changes the legal landscape:
In 2008, Plaintiff Peggy Young, a delivery driver, filed suit against UPS claiming its refusal to provide her light duty pursuant to her doctor’s orders regarding her pregnancy violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Her doctor restricted her lifting to 10 and 20 pounds during her pregnancy, below what her job description contemplated. Although UPS had policies permitting accommodation for delivery drivers for reasons other than pregnancy (disabilities under the ADA, on-the-job injuries, loss of DOT license), it did not have one for pregnant women. So UPS sent her home and forced her to take unpaid leave for the majority of her pregnancy. Young lost on summary judgment, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiori, and the parties argued their respective positions on December 3, 2014.
On March 25, 2015, in an opinion drafted by Justice Breyer, the United States Supreme Court issued its 6-3 decision, vacating summary judgment and remanding the case back to the Fourth Circuit to “determine…whether Young also created a genuine issue of material fact as to whether UPS’ reasons for having treated Young less favorably than…other nonpregnant employees were pretextual.” The Court articulates a framework for analyzing cases where an employer fails to accommodate a pregnant employee. Now, under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, a plaintiff can defeat an employer’s summary judgment motion by showing that “the employer accommodates a large percentage of nonpregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers,” and that the resulting “significant burden” on pregnant employees is not justified by the employer’s given reason for its policy. In so ruling, the Court rejected the analyses urged by all parties involved, including the Solicitor General, who advocated for the endorsement of the EEOC’s guidance on pregnancy accommodation issued shortly after the Court accepted cert in the case.
The Supreme Court’s decision changes the landscape for pregnancy discrimination cases going forward. Although employers may still claim that their policies are based on non-discriminatory reasons like seniority, courts will be less likely to rubber stamp accommodation policies that exempt pregnant workers. UPS, of its own volition, has already changed the way it deals with pregnancy-related medical restrictions. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, however, is not the only law protecting pregnant employees with work restrictions. In many cases, the Americans with Disabilities Act and state law will also require accommodations when pregnancies are complicated or limit an employees’ ability to work.
Young’s fight is not over, but lives to see another day. The Fourth Circuit’s decision will now be accompanied by a national spotlight. Don’t touch that dial.