Today, March 25, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Young v. United Parcel Service (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/12-1226_k5fl.pdf) which involved a UPS employee's claim that she was discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy when UPS denied her request for light duty after her doctor imposed a 20-lb lifting restriction during her pregnancy. The case had been dismissed by the lower court and the dismissal was affirmed by the Fourth Circuit.
We previously wrote about this case after it was argued. As a reminder, UPS denied the employee's request for light duty based upon a policy that only provided light duty to (1) individuals who had been hurt on the job; (2) individuals with a disability within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and (3) drivers who had lost their license. UPS argued that this policy did not discriminate against pregnant workers because it did not provide light duty to any individuals who were not injured on the job and who did not have ADA disabilities.
The Supreme Court agreed with UPS to the extent that the policy on its face is not direct evidence of discrimination. But the Court found that there were factual issues that would allow the case to proceed with respect to whether UPS treated the pregnant employee differently than other employees who were similar in their ability or inability to work. (The Pregnancy Discrimination Act [“PDA”] – which is an amendment to Title VII – provides that pregnancy discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and that pregnant workers must be treated the same as those who are similar in their ability or inability to work). The Court found that the employee could demonstrate that UPS intentionally discriminated against pregnant workers with proof that its light duty policies accommodated the majority of its employees to the exclusion of pregnant workers for no legitimate reason. (There was proof in this case that UPS did actually give accommodations to workers who were not injured on the job and that the cumulative effect of its various light duty policies excluded pregnant women while accommodating most others).
There were a couple of interesting take-aways from this decision. First, the Supreme Court did not agree with either party's reading of the PDA's requirement that pregnant workers be treated the same as other workers who are similar in their ability or inability to work. The plaintiff had argued that this meant that, as long as the employer accommodates some category of employees, it must also accommodate pregnant women even if it does not also accommodate other non-pregnant categories of employees. (So using UPS's policy as an example, since UPS accommodated some workers it was also required to accommodate pregnant women even if it did not also accommodate employees who were hurt off the job). The Supreme Court disagreed finding that Congress did not intend to give pregnant women “most favored nation status.” But the Court also rejected UPS's (and the dissent's) claim that the language about “similar in their ability or inability to work” was basically meaningless and just meant to clarify that employers can't discriminate against pregnant women.
In addition, the Court cast doubt on the effectiveness of 2014 guidance issued by the EEOC which appeared to require employers to accommodate pregnant women and stated that employers cannot use a policy (like UPS's) which only accommodates individuals hurt on the job as an excuse to deny pregnant women accommodations. This is not that surprising because, as we discussed in a prior article, there is no current law which requires pregnant women to receive accommodations (unless they rise to the level of an ADA disability in which case it's an ADA case and not a PDA case) and the EEOC guidance appears to issue a mandate that goes beyond current law.
So what is the effect of this decision? I don't read this decision as making any major waves in pregnancy discrimination law except for the fact that it does contain some favorable language in connection with the evidence that a plaintiff can rely on to prove disparate treatment. It is applying long-standing law on the disparate treatment analysis and it pretty much followed a plain reading of the statute. It would have been surprising if the Court had accepted the plaintiff's argument that she was entitled to an accommodation merely because other employees received them since, as noted above, there is no statutory requirement that pregnant women receive accommodations merely because they are pregnant. This is going to need to come from legislation but, unfortunately, neither the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act nor the New York state's Women's Equality Act have passed. To speak with a New York pregnancy discrimination lawyer give us a call.
Giovanna A. D'Orazio by Giovanna A. D'Orazio |
Giovanna practices employment, land use, commercial, civil and personal injury law at D'Orazio Peterson