On March 25, 2015, the United States Supreme Court decided Young v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., No. 12-1226 (March 25, 2015), addressing whether a company’s failure to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”). The PDA requires employers to treat pregnant employees the same as nonpregnant employees with a temporary disability.
In Young, the company provided light duty for employees who were injured on the job, as well as for employees who had licensing issues, and for employees covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, when Young requested a light-duty position because she had lifting restrictions due to her pregnancy, the company refused to allow her to continue to work with restrictions, and she was forced to take a leave of absence.
Young argued that companies must always make accommodations for pregnant employees, if they made accommodations for any nonpregnant employees. The Supreme Court rejected this argument. However, the Court also rejected the company’s position that, as long as some nonpregnant employees could not get the benefit of light-duty work, light-duty work need not be offered to pregnant employees.
Instead, the Court stated that, to state a claim of pregnancy discrimination based on the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation, an employee must show that: (1) she was pregnant; (2) she requested an accommodation; (3) the employer denied her request; and (4) the employer did accommodate others who were similar in their ability or inability to work.
The employer then must state a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its action. The Court noted possible legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons could be reasons based on job classification, the employer’s needs (which would appear to include, with a light-duty position, whether such a position is available without creating a new position), and seniority.
The employee then may show discrimination by demonstrating that the reason was a pretext for unlawful discrimination. The Court stated that a case could go to a jury on this issue, if the pregnant employee could show that the employer’s policies impose a significant burden on pregnant workers, and that the reasons for denying the accommodation are not sufficiently strong to overcome the burden on pregnant workers. The Court indicated this could be shown by evidence that the employer accommodates a large percentage of nonpregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers. The Court sent this case back to the trial court for further consideration, based on its decision.
What Does This Mean For You? This Supreme Court decision does not provide much clarity regarding when reasonable accommodations must be made for pregnant employees. While the case overrides the recent guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), at least in part, it does not provide any bright-line test to determine when and whether an accommodation can be denied to a pregnant employee. Employees should carefully consider whether to deny a pregnant employee’s request for accommodation, particularly where it allows accommodations to nonpregnant employees. In general, it appears that reasonable accommodations should be made in such circumstances. Open questions include whether a company can legitimately continue to offer light-duty work only to employees injured on the job without offering it to pregnant employees who seek it as a reasonable accommodation. Based on the language in Young, employers may be wise to assume that accommodations must be made to pregnant employees in such circumstances.
**This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or as creating an attorney-client relationship where one does not already exist**