Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an important opinion in a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against UPS.
After UPS driver Peggy Young became pregnant in 2006, her doctor advised her to avoid lifting anything heavier than 20 lbs., although the job called for the ability to lift up to 70 lbs. UPS did not provide lighter duties, which it provided for persons injured on the job and, instead, placed her on unpaid leave. She sued the company under the “Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which requires employers to treat ‘women affected by pregnancy’ the same as ‘other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work’,” The New York Times reports. Her case was dismissed by the trial court, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal.
Young appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. It held in its 5-4 decision last week that that a plaintiff could establish an employer’s claimed reason for its personnel actions was a pretext for discrimination if the plaintiff could show that the employer accommodates a large percentage of non-pregnant workers compared to pregnant workers. The Court sent the case back to the court of appeals to give Ms. Young another shot at showing whether she was treated differently than others similar in their ability or inability to work.
After the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case but before deciding it, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued its Pregnancy Discrimination Guidelines, providing in part that, an employer may not rely on a policy that accommodates employees based on the source of their limitations. According to the EEOC, an employer may not avoid liability simply because it has a policy providing light duty only to employees injured on the job but not to those injured off-duty or who may need a pregnancy-related accommodation. The Court was not swayed by the EEOC’s position in Young; however, employers must consider the weight to be given to this guidance.
Read the Court’s opinion here.