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What HR Should Know About the U.S. Supreme Court’s New Pregnancy Discrimination Act Test Set Forth in Young v. UPS

    May 18, 2015

     

    What HR Should Know About the U.S. Supreme Court’s New Pregnancy Discrimination Act Test Set Forth in Young v. UPS

    By CCHRA Legislative Chairperson Jennifer Ermilio, Esq. (May  2015)
     

    The United States Supreme Court recently announced  a new test in the  Young v. UPS case to evaluate whether an employer discriminates against an employee under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) when it denies an accommodation or adjustment to the pregnant employee’s duties.  HR Professionals should become familiar with this new test and modify their policies and practices accordingly. 
     
    The Facts
     
    Peggy Young, a pregnant UPS driver, was advised by her doctor not to lift more than 20 pounds during the first 20 weeks of her pregnancy and more than 10 pounds thereafter.  UPS drivers are required to lift up to 70 pounds.  UPS accommodated drivers who had become disabled on the job, who had lost their Department of Transportation Certifications and who suffered disabilities under the ADA with light duty work.  However, UPS refused to assign Young light duty work during her pregnancy and instead sent her home without pay.  
     
    Young sued UPS for refusing to accommodate her pregnancy related lifting restrictions in part because UPS accommodated other non-pregnant drivers who were similar in their inability to work.  After the Fourth Circuit granted summary judgment in favor of UPS, Young appealed her case to the Supreme Court.
     
    The Law
     
    The Supreme Court held  in a majority opinion that a pregnant employee who seeks to show that she was treated differently than non-pregnant employees (disparate treatment) under the PDA using  indirect evidence must state her case under the framework used for other Title VII cases that is set out in the McDonnell Douglas case.   
     
    This requires the employee to show that: (1) she belongs to the protected class (pregnant workers); (2) she sought accommodation, (3) the employer did not accommodate her, and (4) the employer did accommodate others “similar in their ability or inability to work.”  If she shows this, the burden shifts to the employer to demonstrate a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory” reason for denying accommodation. Reasons relating to cost or convenience will normally not satisfy this requirement.   If the employer offers a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory” reason, the burden then shifts back to the employee to show that the employer’s reason is merely pretextual, not the true reason for the denial of the accommodation. 
     
    The employee may proceed to trial regarding whether the employer’s reason is pretextual if  she can present sufficient evidence that (1) the employer’s policies impose a “significant burden” on pregnant workers, and (2) the employer’s “legitimate, nondiscriminatory” reasons are not strong enough to justify the burden so that when the two are considered together, the employer’s reasons give rise to an inference of intentional discrimination. The employee may present enough evidence to reach trial on the issue of whether a significant burden exists by offering evidence that the employer accommodates a large percentage of non-pregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers.
     
    Applying these principles, the Court stated that if the facts are as Young describes, she could show that UPS accommodates most non-pregnant employees with lifting limitations while categorically failing to accommodate pregnant employees with lifting limitations.  She could also argue that UPS’s multiple policies accommodating non-pregnant employees with lifting restrictions suggest that UPS’s reasons for failing to accommodate pregnant employees with lifting restrictions are not sufficiently strong so that a jury could find that UPS’s reasons for failing to accommodate pregnant employees gives rise to an inference of intentional discrimination.
     
    Therefore, the Court found that Young created a genuine dispute as to whether UPS provided more favorable treatment to at least some employees whose situation cannot reasonably be distinguished from hers and sent 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 these other non-pregnant employees were pretextual.  If the Fourth Circuit finds that Young has created a genuine issue of material fact as to whether UPS’ reasons for having treated Young less favorably than other non-pregnant employees were pretextual, she will be able to proceed with her case before a jury.
     
    Recommended Strategies
     
    In light of the Young v. UPS decision, employers should ensure that light duty policies that apply to some categories of employees, such as those with on-the-job injuries, also apply to pregnant employees. More broadly, employers should review their other policies and programs that may treat pregnant  workers differently than non-pregnant workers.  This should include an assessment of whether the policy or program significantly burdens pregnant workers and an evaluation of the reasons for the policy or program, including whether it is based on cost or convenience.  In particular, employers should review their facially neutral policies to ensure they are not resulting in accommodations for a large percentage of non-pregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers.
    Additionally, when presented with an accommodation request from a pregnant employee, employers should examine what accommodations they have provided to other employees in the past who were similar in their ability or inability to work and should monitor accommodations on an ongoing basis to make sure pregnant employees are not being treated differently.  As part of this process, employers should train managers and decision makers  on pregnancy discrimination and recognizing and handling requests for  accommodation from pregnant workers. 
    Finally, when reviewing policies and programs and considering accommodation requests, employers should keep in mind not only the PDA’s requirements, but also those of the ADA and state and local laws protecting pregnant workers.  For example, the Young v. UPS case did not take into consideration the recent ADA amendments which more broadly define disability.  As another example, Pennsylvania law requires employers to treat disabilities related to pregnancy and child birth in the same way as other temporary disabilities. While pregnant employees do not typically meet the definition of handicap or disability in the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, Pennsylvania law requires that policies regarding job benefits and security apply equally to individuals with temporary and permanent disabilities incurred as a result of pregnancy or childbirth and individuals with disabilities incurred as a result of other causes. 

     

    Disclaimers:

    This article has been prepared for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The information presented is not to be construed as an offer to represent you, nor is it intended to create, nor does the receipt of such information constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Each situation is unique and the generalities mentioned may not apply to your situation.  Therefore, you should not rely on the information contained in this article without first obtaining the advice of a competent employment attorney. 

    The opinions and views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of CCHRA or its members.

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