The  U.S. Supreme Court revived Peggy Young’s pregnancy discrimination claim against UPS by vacating a Fourth Circuit decision today by a 6-3 vote. Young worked as an air driver for UPS, which required her to lift up to 70 pounds.  After she became pregnant, Young’s doctor determined that she should not lift more than 20 pounds.  Consequently, UPS informed Young that, given her lifting restrictions, she could not work as an air driver. Although UPS offered light-duty assignments to some categories of workers pursuant to its collective bargaining agreement, Young’s pregnancy-based restriction did not fall into those approved categories, so UPS denied her requested light-duty accommodation.

Young argued that by denying her a temporary assignment, UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”), because the PDA mandates that pregnant workers shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes. UPS countered that it treated Young the same as other similarly-situated employees. The Supreme Court found neither parties’ interpretation of the Act persuasive.

The District Court and Fourth Circuit both agreed that Young could not show that “similarly situated employees outside the protected class received more favorable treatment than Young” and entered or affirmed summary judgment in favor of UPS.  The Supreme Court disagreed that there is no genuine issue of material fact.

Viewing the record in the light most favorable to Young, there is a genuine dispute as to whether UPS provided more favorable treatment to at least some em­ployees whose situation cannot reasonably be distin­guished from Young’s.” 

The Court also noted that Young introduced evidence that UPS had three separate accommodation policies, which when taken together, arguably significantly burdened pregnant women. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded the case to the Fourth Circuit, because it did not consider the combined effects of UPS’ policies nor did it consider the strength of UPS’ justifications for each. The Court ended its opinion asking, “why, when the employer accommodated so many, could it not accommodate pregnant women as well?

Although employers’ obligations under the PDA remain unclear, employers should consider revising their light duty policies to ensure pregnant individuals are included.