U.S. Supreme Court Issues Decision Regarding Pregnancy Discrimination Act

In a case decided March 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held that an employer violates Title VII if it accommodates its workers who are unable to perform their jobs due to on-the-job injuries but fails to offer the same accommodations to workers who are pregnant.  Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 374, 187 L.Ed 2d 14.

Peggy Young worked as a UPS driver, picking up and delivering packages carried by air.  In the fall of 2006, Young became pregnant.  Her doctor recommended that she not be required to lift packages greater than 20 pounds for the first 20 weeks of her pregnancy and no greater than 10 pounds thereafter.  UPS requires drivers to be able to lift packages weighing up to 70 pounds and assist in moving packages weighing up to 150 pounds.

Young was told she could not return to work during her pregnancy because she could not satisfy UPS’ lifting requirements.  When Young asked a supervisor to accommodate her disability, he replied that while she was pregnant, she was “too much of a liability” and could “not come back” until she “was no longer pregnant.”

The district court granted UPS’ motion for summary judgment and the Fourth Circuit affirmed.

However, the Supreme Court reversed.  In so doing, the Court focused on the language of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of Title VII, which prohibits sex discrimination based on pregnancy.  Specifically, the Court focused on the following language:  “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 …” 42 U.S.C. §2000e-2(a)(1).

The Court found that UPS had three separate accommodation policies for non-pregnant employees who were unable to perform their jobs for various reasons.  The collective bargaining agreement, (“CBA”), provided temporary alternative work to employees “unable to perform their normal work assignments.”  It also provided a promise to make a “good faith effort to comply … with a reasonable accommodation because of a permanent disability” under the Americans With Disabilities Act.”  Finally, the CBA stated that UPS would give drivers who had lost their DOT certifications because of a failed medical exam, a lost driver’s license or involvement in a motor vehicle accident other “inside” jobs.

The Court found that Young created a genuine dispute as to whether UPS provided more favorable treatment to at least some employees whose situation cannot reasonably be distinguished from hers, i.e., whether UPS’ reasons for having treated Young less favorably than these other nonpregnant employees were pretextural.

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