By Kristofor L. Hanson
The U.S. Supreme Court on March 25, 2015, issued a decision that alters the landscape for employers under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”). In the decision, the Court held that employers are now required to assess their ability to accommodate a pregnant employee’s restrictions in a manner consistent with efforts to accommodate other employees under similar restrictions.
The case, Young v. UPS, Inc., No. 12-1226 (March 25, 2015), involved a pregnant UPS employee, Peggy Young, whose pregnancy restricted her lifting to 20 pounds, then again to 10 pounds, as her pregnancy progressed. Her job required her to lift items as heavy as 70 pounds and to assist in moving packages weighing up to 150 pounds. UPS had a policy that called for light duty assignments for employees injured on the job, employees with suffering from conditions that qualified as disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and for those employees who had lost their Department of Transportation license. Young sought an accommodation similar to those the company had provided for employees with similar restrictions. UPS said that she was not entitled to an accommodation because pregnancy did not fall within one of the three categories for which it provided accommodations.
The District Court dismissed Young’s case, determining that UPS’s decision complied with the PDA, because Young could not demonstrate that she was “similarly situated” to employees in the three categories for whom UPS provided accommodations: 1) she was not injured on the job; 2) she was not legally restricted from working like those who lost or had suspended their DOT certifications; and 3) she was not disabled under the law. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s decision and stated that Young more closely resembled “an employee who injury his back while picking up his infant child or . . . an employee whose lifting limitation arose from her off-the-job work as a volunteer firefighter,” neither of whom would qualify for an accommodation under UPS’s policy.
Young presented facts that showed that UPS was able to accommodate other employees who had lifting restrictions similar to hers. She also presented evidence that other employees had indicated they were willing to assist her with lifting and moving packages. In addition, a shop steward testified that UPS had no issues with accommodating employees except when a pregnancy situation arose.
The PDA provides, in relevant part, that employers must treat “women affected by pregnancy . . . the same for all employment-related purposes . . . as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” The Supreme Court’s analysis determined that this language is intended to provide pregnant women with accommodations provided to other employees who are similarly limited in their work. Because Young provided evidence that other employees with similar restrictions were regularly accommodated by UPS, the Supreme Court overturned the lower courts and remanded the case. The District Court will now analyze whether Young presented sufficient evidence to move her case beyond summary judgment under the new standard articulated by the Supreme Court.
The decision places an onus on employers to treat a pregnant employee as they treat other employees who have restrictions similar to the pregnant employee. Previously, employers were not required to do that. Rather, employers could limit accommodations as UPS did. Employers must now analyze pregnant employees’ restrictions on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they are offering accommodations to other employees with like restrictions. If they are, employers should do the same for pregnant employees. As the Supreme Court asked, “[W]hen the employer accommodated so many, could it not accommodate pregnant women as well?” According to the Supreme Court, the answer to that question could very well be, “Yes.”
If you have questions about this material, please contact Kristofor Hanson by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (414) 273-3910, or any other attorney you have been working with here at Lindner & Marsack, S.C.