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US Supreme Court Will Review Important Case Affecting Pregnant Workers

The U.S. Supreme Court has just agreed to review Young v. UPS, a decision that will determine whether and to what extent an employer must provide pregnant employees with work accommodations, such as light duty, that are given to other workers with disabilities.

The Plaintiff, Peggy Young, a part-time UPS driver, became pregnant in 2006 and was told by her doctor not to lift objects weighing more than 20 pounds for the first half of her pregnancy and more than 10 pounds thereafter. Young subsequently requested a light duty assignment from UPS, but the request was denied. Because lifting more than 20 pounds was an essential function of her job, UPS did not allow Young to continue working; instead, she took unpaid leave and returned after giving birth. She then sued UPS, claiming that UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”).

The PDA of 1978 is one sentence that amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on a number of factors including sex, by providing that “(1) The terms ‘because of sex’ or ‘on the basis of sex’ include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions; and (2) women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” (emphasis added).

UPS’s workforce is unionized; thus, a collective bargaining agreement dictated terms of employment. This agreement specifically outlined to whom accommodations could be provided: people with disabilities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, workers who had experienced on-the-job injuries and those who had lost their Department of Transportation certification. In her suit, Young emphasized the second clause of the PDA, arguing that UPS violated the law by failing to provide her the same accommodations as it provided to nonpregnant employees with physical disabilities who were similar in their ability to work.

Both the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland and the Fourth Circuit found the company policy to be lawful under the PDA because "where a policy treats pregnant workers and nonpregnant workers alike, the employer has complied with the PDA." The Fourth Circuit's ruling in UPS' favor is at odds with a 1996 Sixth Circuit decision that allowed a similar PDA claim to move forward. See Ensley-Gaines v. Runyon, 100 F.3d 1220 (6th Cir. 1996). The split makes the issue ready for Supreme Court review. For more on interesting information on this case, including why the Plaintiff’s argument might be already moot, check back on Wednesday.

Cindy Effinger

Cynthia L. Effinger is an Associate of  McBrayer law. Ms. Effinger’s practice is concentrated in the areas of employment law and commercial litigation. She also has experience with First Amendment litigation, securities litigation and complex litigation. Ms. Effinger can be reached at ceffinger@mcbrayerfirm.com or at (502) 327-5400, ext. 2316.

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This article does not constitute legal advice.

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