Woman Whose Employer Denied Her Request for Light Duty During Pregnancy May Continue Her Discrimination Lawsuit, Supreme Court Rules

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of a woman who filed suit against her employer for discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978. Young v. United Parcel Service, 575 U.S. ___ (2015). The ruling is very narrow, merely stating that the plaintiff raised a genuine issue of material fact as to discrimination under the PDA. This was sufficient to vacate the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling affirming the district court, which granted summary judgment to the defendant. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the district court, where the litigation process may proceed. While the case was pending, the defendant changed its policy on light duty for pregnant employees.

The plaintiff’s job as a part-time delivery driver required the ability to lift 70-pound packages. When she became pregnant, her doctor restricted her to no more than 20 pounds, reduced to 10 pounds later in the pregnancy. The defendant denied her request for light duty during her pregnancy, effectively forcing her to go on unpaid leave. Her lawsuit argued that the company’s light duty policy violated the PDA by limiting its availability to on-the-job injuries, conditions covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and loss of certification from the Department of Transportation. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendant, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed the ruling.

The PDA expanded Title VII’s definition of sex discrimination to include discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and related conditions. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). It remains unclear to what extent the PDA requires reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. The question before the Supreme Court was essentially whether the plaintiff had sufficiently raised a claim of discrimination based on the application of the light-duty policy to nonpregnant employees with 20-pound lifting restrictions, but not pregnant employees.

Justice Breyer, writing for the majority, noted that the court’s interpretation of the PDA may have already been superseded by “statutory changes made after the time of Young’s pregnancy.” Young, slip op. at 10. The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 may have expanded the ADA’s scope to include pregnancy, and federal employment regulations now require “employers to accommodate employees whose temporary lifting restrictions originate off the job.” Id., citing 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 App., § 1630.2(j)(1)(ix).

The defendant’s light-duty policy did not explicitly state that it excluded pregnancy, but the plaintiff alleges that this is how the defendant applied the policy. The Supreme Court applied a four-prong test developed in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973), to establish discrimination by presenting indirect evidence. The plaintiff has the burden of initially proving that (1) they are a member of a minority group; (2) they applied for a job opening offered by the defendant, for which they were qualified; (3) the defendant did not hire them despite their qualifications; and (4) the defendant continued accepting applications for the job from similarly qualified people after rejecting the plaintiff. The court held that the plaintiff had raised a genuine issue of fact regarding the fourth prong, specifically “whether UPS provided more favorable treatment to at least some employees whose situation cannot reasonably be distinguished from Young’s.” Young at 23.

At Phillips & Associates, our experienced and skilled pregnancy discrimination attorneys fight for the rights of employees, former employees, and job seekers in the New York City area. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team.

More Blog Posts:

Fighting for the Right to Continue Working During Pregnancy, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 11, 2015
Supreme Court Will Consider Whether Pregnancy Discrimination Act Requires Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Employees, New York Employment Attorney Blog, September 24, 2014
EEOC Updates Pregnancy Discrimination Guidelines for First Time in Over Thirty Years, New York Employment Attorney Blog, July 17, 2014

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