An appellate court upheld a lower court ruling dismissing a pregnancy discrimination case, holding that a company policy preventing a pregnant employee from returning to work with light duties did not violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA). Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., No. 11-2078, slip. op. (4th Cir., Jan. 9, 2013). The plaintiff, the court found, did not establish that the policy, which provided light duty to other workers, but not pregnant employees, constituted pregenancy discrimination as defined by the PDA. While the court expressed sympathy for the plaintiff’s situation, it held that ruling in her favor would create new rights not intended by the PDA or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The case demonstrates the difficulty in reconciling pregnancy discrimination and disability laws.
The plaintiff, Peggy Young, had worked for United Parcel Service (UPS) for about seven years as a delivery driver when she became pregnant in 2006. Her job required her to lift and carry packages of various weights. She was granted leave in July 2006 to attempt in vitro fertilization, and became pregnant soon afterwards. In September 2006, she provided a note from a physician saying that she could not lift more than twenty pounds during the first five months of pregnancy. Young obtained a note from her midwife in October recommending the same lifting restriction.
When Young asked to return to work later in October, she was told that she was “unable to perform the essential functions of her job,” slip op. at 6, and that she could not return to work until after she gave birth. She was also informed that she was not eligible for light duty under UPS’ policy, which only allowed light duty for people injured on the job, people who were entitled to an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and people who had lost Department of Transportation certification. Young had to go on unpaid leave, and did not return to work until after her child was born in April 2007.
Young received a “right to sue” letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision for claims of race, sex, and pregnancy discrimination, and she filed suit in October 2008. She later amended her complaint to include disability discrimination under the ADA. The district court granted summary judgment for UPS, holding that Young did not provide direct evidence of discrimination, could not show a “similarly situated comparator who received more favorable treatment,” and did not show that UPS’ “non-discriminatory rationale for its decision was pretextual.” Id. at 8.
The Fourth Circuit affirmed summary judgment, holding first that the ADA generally does not consider pregnancy a “disability,” and that UPS did not consider Young to be disabled within the ADA’s meaning. The court noted that the PDA only amended the “Definitions” section of Title VII, and explicitly defined pregnancy discrimination as a form of gender discrimination. The court found no basis for concluding that the UPS policy regarding light work duties discriminated based on gender. It noted that the three grounds for light duty in the UPS policy related to work-related conditions or ADA-mandated accommodations. Young’s requested accommodation also differed in that it had a specified duration of twenty weeks. The court stated that it was “not unsympathetic to Young’s circumstances,” but concluded that it would be too “problematic [to]…creat[e] rights not grounded in the text and structure of Title VII as a whole.” Id. at 24.
At Phillips & Associates, we work to safeguard the rights of employees and job seekers in the New York City area who have experienced pregnancy discrimination and other forms of employment discrimination in violation of federal, state, and local laws. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.
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