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Update: SCOTUS decides landmark pregnancy discrimination case

On Behalf of | Mar 31, 2015 | Workplace Discrimination |

Back in December, our blog discussed how the Supreme Court of the United States was hearing oral arguments in a very important case examining whether employers must provide pregnant employees with special accommodations if they will be unable to perform their regular work duties.

To recap, Young v. United Parcel Service concerned an employee who became pregnant back in 2006. Early on in her pregnancy, she requested lighter duty based on a doctor’s note indicating that she should not lift packages weighing more than 20 pounds and 10 pounds later in her pregnancy.

This request for light duty was subsequently denied by UPS, which informed her that it was inconsistent with internal policy.

The employee proceeded to take an unpaid nine-month leave without health insurance and eventually filed a lawsuit against UPS alleging a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

UPS prevailed at both the federal district court and federal appellate court level, and the matter ended up before SCOTUS, where the employee argued that other employees who were similarly sidelined — but not pregnant — were actually given the exact type of lighter duty she had originally requested.

In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled in favor of the employee, articulating the legal protections available to pregnant workers who believe they have been victimized by discrimination and, more significantly, granting the employee another opportunity to present her case in the lower courts.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the opinion, indicated that in these types of cases, the pregnant employee claiming she was treated differently than similarly situated employees must demonstrate the following: 1) an accommodation was sought, 2) the employer refused the accommodation, and 3) the type of accommodation denied to the pregnant employee was subsequently extended to other employees facing similar work restrictions.

As far as the employer is concerned, he wrote that it can attempt to demonstrate that the reasons behind the denial of the requested accommodation were indeed legitimate and not discriminatory. However, the opinion also made clear that expense and inconvenience are not considered valid reasons for refusing accommodations for pregnant women.

Both sides expressed satisfaction with SCOTUS’ decision and their belief that they will prevail.

“We are confident that [lower] courts will find that UPS did not discriminate against Ms. Young under this newly announced standard,” read a UPS statement.

It should be noted that UPS has since changed its internal policy provide light duty accommodations for pregnant workers.

Stay tuned for updates on this important employment law case …

Source: The Washington Post, “Justices revive case claiming UPS discriminated against pregnant worker,” Robert Barnes and Brigid Schulte, March 25, 2015