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When must an employer accommodate a pregnant employee?

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More than 30 years after Congress enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), federal courts continue to disagree whether employers must offer pregnant employees the same accommodations they provide to other workers.  The Supreme Court has the opportunity to resolve this important question, however, by granting certiorari in Young v. United Parcel Service, Case No.  12-1226. 

The PDA expressly 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). Nonetheless, some federal courts have held that the PDA does not require employers to accommodate pregnant women even if they accommodate other workers with the same or similar physical restrictions.

For example, Petitioner Peggy Young worked as an air driver for United Parcel Service (UPS) starting in 1999.  After she became pregnant in 2006, her healthcare provider recommended that she not lift over twenty pounds while pregnant.   While Young was willing to do either light duty or her regular job, UPS would not let her work as an air driver with this restriction, nor would it assign her light duty, although it offered it to other employees, including those injured on the job and those accommodated under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Young had to take a lengthy, unpaid leave during which she lost medical benefits.  

After Young sued, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granted summary judgment in favor of UPS, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that UPS’ policy of providing light duty to some types of workers (but not pregnant ones) did not violate the PDA.   Young v. UPS, 707 F.3d 437, 446-451 (4th Cir. 2013).  The Fourth Circuit’s decision conflicts with the analyses of other appellate courts.  See EEOC v. Horizon/CMS Healthcare Corp., 220 F.3d 1184 (10th Cir. 2000); Ensley-Gaines v. Runyon, 100 F.3d 1220 (6th Cir. 1996).

As noted in the Brief of Law Professors and Women’s Rights Organizations as Amici Curiae in Support of Petitioner, Young v. UPS presents an issue of significance to working women, since the “majority…will become pregnant at some point during their working lives” and many “will experience at least minor conflicts between job requirements or working conditions and the temporary, but real physical effects of pregnancy.”  The Amici Curiae further explain that the PDA case law in the lower courts, as exemplified by the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Young v. UPS, is inconsistent with the PDA’s text, contrary to Congress’ purpose, and strips working women and their families of much needed protections.                  

The Supreme Court has invited the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the views of the United States, and, hopefully, the high court will announce that it has accepted certiorari to address this important issue someday soon. 

 

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