In a decision issued March 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act mandated that employers must provide accommodations to pregnant employees when needed if the employer provides accommodations to other employees with similar work restrictions. Young v. United Parcel Service, No. 12-1226 (Mar. 25, 2015).
In the underlying case, Ms. Young was a part-time driver for United Parcel Service (UPS) who was advised by her doctor, when she became pregnant, that she could not lift more than 20 pounds. UPS required drivers to be able to lift up to 70 pounds. UPS informed Ms. Young that she could not work while under a lifting restriction, and refused to provide Ms. Young with an accommodation for her pregnancy-related lifting restriction. Ms. Young consequently stayed home without pay during most of her pregnancy, eventually lost her employee medical coverage, and sued UPS alleging violations of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
The U.S. Supreme Court, though sending the case back to the trial court, held that policies may have the effect of discriminating against pregnant workers if the policies treat pregnant women different than similarly situated non-pregnant workers. For example, if a policy only permits on-the-job injured workers with accommodations, but does not provide pregnant workers with accommodations even though the pregnant workers have the same restrictions, the policy will run afoul of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Employers should be cautious when applying policy to ensure that the effects of the policy are not discriminatory towards pregnant workers.
This decision should be read in conjunction with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance regarding pregnant employees that was released on July 14, 2014. This guidance was discussed in Ennis Britton’s September 2014 School Law Review Newsletter. Together, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision and the Guidance from the EEOC serve as reminders to employers that pregnancy conditions may be protected, and employers may be required to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy-related conditions.