Today the US Supreme Court handed down its decision in UPS v Young, known to many as “The Pregnancy Discrimination Act Case”. For a review of the facts, click here. While the ruling is essentially favorable to Ms. Young and those who advocate for pregnant workers’ rights, it is not exactly a slam-dunk. Unless the parties settle, the case will not be over for some time. Join The EmpLAWyerologist after the jump to learn (at least summarily) what the Supreme Court said and what it means…
I am not going to review all facts here–but we do have to review a little bit of the history. In 2006, Ms. Young, a UPS driver became pregnant and her doctor issued lifting restrictions. Ultimately she was limited to lifting no more than 10 pounds. UPS however required its drivers to be able to lift 70 pounds. Ms. Young asked for accommodations. UPS did provide similar accommodations to others if their conditions resulted from a) on-the-job injuries; b) “permanent disabilities” within the meaning of the ADA (as interpreted prior to the ADAAA); c) employees who lost DOT clearance. Ms. Young alleged that she suffered disparate treatment because of her pregnancy in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The lower courts dismissed Ms. Young’s claim, reasoning that there was no evidence of discriminatory animus, that Ms. Young was not similarly situated to the non-pregnant workers that UPS’s policy does accommodate, that UPS in any case offered a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for its disparate treatment, and that there was no genuine issue of fact to resolve as to whether that reason was pretextual.
The US Supreme Court in a 6-3 majority ruling written by Justice Stephen Breyer, vacated the lower courts’ rulings but as I said above, that does not end the case. The Court did not rule that UPS policy is inherently discriminatory. It did find that there was a genuine factual 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 Court of Appeals to resolve that issue and to determine “whether Young also created a genuine issue of material fact as to whether UPS’ reasons for treating Young less favorably than these other non-pregnant employees were pretextual”. (Click here to read the Supreme Court opinion.)
So what does all this mean? Only after further proceedings have occurred will there be a final determination as to whether UPS’s treatment of Young as compared to other non-pregnant workers in the three categories listed above was less favorable, and whether its proffered reasons for doing so were pretext for discrimination.
In the meantime, here are some takeaways for employers:
- Review your policies and procedures for disability and/or injury-related accommodations, taking particular care to consider the impact of policies covering non-pregnant workers’ disabilities, injuries or requests for accommodations on pregnant workers. Justice Breyer cities this specific failure by the Fourth Circuit as the main reason for the majority’s decision to vacate its judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.
- Update any policies that may be inconsistent with the PDA and with UPS v Young.
- If you choose not to grant a pregnant employee’s request for an accommodation, do not base that decision on cost or convenience — particularly if you provide similar accommodations to non-pregnant employees. The majority opinion made it very clear that an employer cannot do this without running afoul of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
- If you offer light-duty accommodations to non-pregnant employees, offer them to pregnant employees — unless you can show that you have legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for not doing so.
- Engage in the interactive process with all employees requesting reasonable accommodations, whether pregnant or not, document your efforts, your decisions and your reasons. These may prove indispensable if an employee later files a discrimination charge or lawsuit.
- As with everything, speak with your friendly in-house counsel and/or your trusty outside employment counsel for more words of wisdom!
That’s all for this supplemental post. The regular, weekly post is coming in a few more hours–after these commercial breaks — or at least after a few hours of sleep!
Disclaimer: This post’s contents are for informational purposes only, are not legal advice and do not create an attorney-client relationship. Always consult with competent employment counsel on any issues discussed here.
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