Thoran Towler: What employers need to know about pregnancy discrimination

On March 25, the United States Supreme Court delivered its opinion on a case relating to treatment of pregnant workers that is of interest to businesses. In Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 575 U.S. ___ (2015), the Court evaluated the requirements for bringing a disparate (discrimination) treatment claim under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was subsequent language added to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In synopsis, the additional language clarifies that sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions (see 42 U. S. C §2000e (k)). Additionally, it states that employers must treat “women affected by pregnancy ... the same for all employment-related purposes ... as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”

In Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 575 U.S.___ (2015), Young asked the Court to determine how the latter provision applied in the context of an employer’s policy that accommodates many, but not all, workers with non-pregnancy related disabilities. The plaintiff, Ms. Peggy Young, was employed by United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS), who generally required employees to be able to lift 70 pounds.

In 2006, after Young had suffered several miscarriages, she became pregnant. Ms. Young’s doctor had restricted lifting to 20 pounds. Since her condition did not meet qualifications for “light duty,” Young was not accommodated by UPS. However, light duty was available for on-the-job injuries, employees with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) qualified conditions, and those who lost Department of Transportation (DOT) certification.

The United States Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling held that an employee could make a disparate treatment claim through indirect evidence. This ruling means that when Young was denied her request to accommodate her lifting restriction, the company, in turn, would be required to show that the reasoning for non-accommodation was legitimate. Legitimacy does not include costs incurred by the company or inconvenience. Thus, if the employer grants an accommodation to other employees with similar limitations, the company must grant pregnant employees the same accommodation.

It should be noted that this incident happened before the enactment of the 2008 pregnancy amendments to the ADA, which have been expanded in such a way that Ms. Young could have applied for protection under the ADA.

To read the full opinion of the United States Supreme Court in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 575 U.S. ___ (2015) visit:

The legal areas of Labor and Employment Law are constantly changing and it is imperative for employers to stay abreast of laws that impact their policies and procedures. It is important for employers to have access to a professional team of lawyers who are current on this ever changing legal landscape, and its ultimate effect on businesses.

Thoran Towler, a former Nevada Labor Commissioner, is an associate with Allison MacKenzie. This column is part of his series of educational articles addressing key labor and employment law issues effecting Northern Nevada businesses.


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