Just recently, the United States Supreme Court decided a case that could require employers to provide more accommodations to pregnant workers. In Peggy Young v. United Parcel Service, the Court established a new test to evaluate an employee’s claim under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”). Instead of clarifying the law, the Court created more confusion for employers.
The lawsuit involved a UPS employee named Peggy Young who requested “light duty” after her doctor told her not to lift more than 20 pounds at the beginning of her pregnancy and not more than 10 pounds when she reached 20 weeks. UPS denied the request based upon its policy to only accommodate workers who: (1) suffered on-the-job injuries; (2) are considered disabled workers under the ADA; and (3) those who lost their DOT certification.
Ms. Young then filed suit under the PDA, which amends Title VII and contains two parts: the first says that pregnancy bias is a form of discrimination based on sex, and the second says that pregnant female workers must be treated the same as other workers who are similar in their ability or inability to work. This case involved interpretation of that second part.
The Court created a new test to determine whether an employer violates the Act by granting accommodations to some employees, but not to pregnant employees. The initial burden is on the plaintiff employee to show that she was (1) pregnant, (2) sought accommodation, (3) was refused the accommodation, and (4) the employer accommodated other workers because of their inability to do their normal jobs. Then, the employer gets a chance to show that it had a neutral, business-related reason for the decision/policy. Then, the worker gets the last shot to show that the burden on pregnant workers outweighs the employer’s legitimate interests.
Confusing, right? On the one hand, the decision is good for employers because it does not mandate accommodating pregnant employees any time they accommodate other employees. On the other hand, it is difficult to envision a scenario where an employer could legally accommodate some workers while not accommodating pregnant employees.
Employers should review any light duty or other accommodation policies (whether written or unwritten) to ensure that pregnant employees are not being denied accommodations afforded to other employees.
If you have any questions or comments regarding this article, pregnancy discrimination or any other types of workplace discrimination, please contact the author.
 The full text of the opinion can be found at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/12-1226_k5fl.pdf.