The United States Supreme Court is poised to decide the issue of whether employers are obligated to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. The law, as it currently stands, states that employers are not required to provide reasonable accommodations unless the pregnancy resulted in a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Being pregnant alone is not a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, because it is not substantially limiting for a long period of time. However, the state of the law could change due to the case of Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc.
In Young, the plaintiff, a part-time driver for UPS, was placed on a 20-pound lifting restriction while pregnant. In response, UPS placed the plaintiff on forced unpaid leave. UPS only provided workplace accommodations to individuals with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act, individuals hurt on the job and individuals with conditions that rendered them ineligible for DOT certification. According to UPS, because the plaintiff did not fall into any of these three classes, it was not required to accommodate her pregnancy and lifting restriction. UPS’s argument prevailed in the District Court and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The law at issue is called the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The key clause at issue states that “women affected by pregnancy . . . 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.” According to the plaintiff, this clause of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act means that Young must be given accommodations if other non-pregnant employees are given similar accommodations in their inability to work. Young’s brief summarizes her argument as follows: “When two sets of employees experience similar restrictions on their ability to work – one because of pregnancy and the other because of some other condition – the employer must not give any lesser accommodation to the pregnant workers than it gives to the nonpregnant workers.”
It should be noted that Young lost in the District Court and lost in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Young has an uphill battle, especially in front of the current Supreme Court. But if Young does prevail, this may usher in a new era of reasonable accommodation claims under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
This post was written by Ryan P. Sink of Fox Williams & Sink LLC. If you would like to submit content or write an article for the Labor & Employment Law Section page, please email Mary Kay Price at firstname.lastname@example.org.