Last week, UPS settled its long-running case with Peggy Young, the employee whose case went up to the Supreme Court after she was denied light duty. As many will recall from an earlier blog post, the high court found that UPS’s policy of refusing light duty to pregnant employees violated the “Pregnancy Discrimination Act” (“PDA”). See, Young v. United Parcel Service, 575 U.S.___(2015). Even before the case reached the Supreme Court, the company had changed its policies regarding light duty for pregnant workers and made temporary light duty assignments available to pregnant employees. The Supreme Court reasoned that if UPS provided light duty to some employees (such as those injured on the job), it had to justify why it did not offer that light duty to pregnant employees.
The details of the settlement were not revealed, but UPS stated that its denial of Young’s light-duty request in 2006 didn’t run afoul of the PDA. The company argued that federal law doesn’t require accommodations or special treatment for pregnant employees, and added that it had simply treated Young the same as other workers with similar lifting restrictions stemming from an “off-the-job injury or condition.”
It is clear from the statements that this was the end of a long, and likely expensive, journey for UPS. “We are grateful that this case has finally come to a just conclusion, and we thank UPS and its counsel for their cooperation. Litigation is not for the faint of heart or the impatient. Not many victims of discrimination would have had the grit that Peggy Young displayed in sustaining this struggle for nine years,” Young’s attorney, Sharon Fast Gustafson, said in a statement Thursday.
UPS is not the only company that has modified its policies regarding the treatment of pregnant employees to comply with developments on the federal, state and local level. In addition to the Supreme Court decision, a number of localities – like New York City with its “Pregnancy Fairness Act” – have passed statutes that specifically require the accommodation of pregnant employees in the workplace. In the case of the New York law, the statute lists specific accommodations that must be considered and provided, and defines ‘pregnancy’ in an expansive fashion – to include employees who are undergoing fertility treatments and need accommodations after giving birth. You can read the guidance the EEOC issued in 2015, which details how an employer must accommodate pregnant workers.
In our Labor and Employment practice, we have seen employees become more strident in their demands for workplace accommodations, in some cases starting from very early in the pregnancy. Many laws consider “pregnancy” to include the spend before pregnancy (such as an employee receiving fertility treatments) and accommodations needed after an employee gives birth. Therefore, if your company still has a policy that favors employees with Workers Comp injuries and treats them differently from other employees with temporary injuries or conditions, you may want to re-think that policy.
In my practice, I have seen an uptick in accommodation requests from pregnant employees, who now seem to be more vocal about their needs for job modifications. Thus, even if you are not in a locality which does not have a pregnancy statute like New York City’s, you would be well advised to review your policies regarding pregnancy accommodations.