The wait for a Supreme Court decision in the Young v. United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) case ended on March 25th, with a ruling in favor of Peggy Young. Ms. Young accused UPS of pregnancy discrimination for refusing to provide reasonable light-duty accommodations as per her doctor’s advice. The Court adopted a new standard for evaluating pregnancy discrimination and made it clear that employers may not refuse to accommodate pregnant workers based on considerations of cost or convenience.
UPS allowed light duty assignments to persons eligible for an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, UPS offered light duty assignments to persons who lost their commercial driver’s licenses due to a medical condition or even a legal issue. When Ms. Young’s request was denied, she was forced to take an unpaid leave of absence, and ultimately lost her health insurance. Earlier, two courts have ruled in favor of UPS in this case – exonerating it of the responsibility to accommodate a pregnancy-related disability – as the disability did not originate from any work-related issue.
The Supreme Court agreed that an employer is not automatically required to give pregnant workers the same accommodations they would offer to others with temporary disabilities. At the same time, it required UPS to justify its treatment by establishing a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the difference in treatment. The Court noted that Ms. Young was denied a workplace accommodation that was made available to other employees with similar physical restrictions. The court ruled that she should have the opportunity to prove that UPS, by refusing her an accommodation it made available to many other restricted workers, committed pregnancy discrimination. The lower courts must now consider the case with a different interpretation of applicable law – restoring statutory protection to pregnant workers, which was denied to them by many federal courts as they upheld ‘pregnancy-neutral’ policies which deny any kind of accommodation to pregnant women.
It is now even more important for employers to consider – when determining their actions towards a pregnant worker – whether that same action would be taken in the event of any other documented medical condition. In light of the new guidance, which sets aside the EEOC’s 2014 guidance in the matter, employers should:
Companies depend on the contributions of women in the workforce. Policies and practices which make it hard for a woman to plan a pregnancy and have a child, while remaining in the labor force, are not in the best interests of the company and should be revamped. Companies must also recognize the right of women to equivalent accommodations with others whose physical condition makes it difficult to perform certain tasks. After all, health conditions which need accommodation may or may not clear up, but pregnancy has a term, at the end of which the woman can get back to her peak performance and productivity.
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