Does your business have a pregnant employee? Has that pregnant employee ever had a work restriction? If you answered “yes” to either question, this article is for you. In March 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court altered the analysis under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”), a move that could put your company at risk if you do not know the law.
Young v. UPS, 135 S. Ct. 1338 (2015) involved a pregnant driver for the packaging company. Ms. Young worked part-time for the company picking up and delivering packages. After becoming pregnant, Ms. Young’s doctor restricted her lifting ability to 20 pounds for her first 20 weeks of pregnancy and 10 pounds after that point. Her job typically required her to lift packages weighing up to 70 pounds on her own and 150 pounds with assistance. Based on its job requirements, UPS informed Ms. Young that she could not perform her job while pregnant due to her restrictions. She acquiesced and did not work during her pregnancy. As a result, she lost her medical coverage.
Ms. Young ultimately filed suit alleging that UPS unlawfully failed to accommodate her pregnancy related lifting restrictions. She claimed that the company provided similarly impaired non-pregnant drivers with accommodations, but denied her request, therefore violating the PDA. UPS responded that it took lawful action since the similarly impaired drivers that the company accommodated were either (1) disabled on the job (2) subject to the loss of their DOT certifications or (3) suffering from a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since Ms. Young did not fall into any of those categories, UPS viewed it as acceptable to refuse her request for an accommodation.
The Court analyzed the second line of the PDA which states 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…” It concluded that to succeed on a disparate treatment claim under the PDA, a plaintiff must show that (1) she was pregnant; (2) she requested an accommodation; (3) the employer did not accommodate her; and (4) the employer did accommodate others “similar in their ability or inability to work.”
It is that last line that requires your company to take action. In short, if you accommodate other employees who are similarly unable to do their jobs, you must also accommodate your pregnant employees who have similar restrictions. For example, your company requires its factory employees to lift up to 40 pounds. You have an employee who injured his hand at work. His doctor restricted him to lifting 10 pounds. To accommodate that employee, you move him to a job in the administrative office until the doctor eliminates the restrictions. If after that you have a pregnant employee whose doctor restricts her lifting to 10 pounds, you must provide a similar accommodation and move her into a position in compliance with her restrictions. Otherwise, you run the risk of violating the PDA and winding up in litigation.