A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Young v. UPS, gave millions of working women a significant victory in their fight for pregnancy leave. It is important a pregnant employee doesn’t accept the company line on its obligations regarding pregnancy benefits. If you are pregnant and working, it is a good idea to consult an employment attorney to make sure your employee rights are respected according to the letter of the law, not company rules.
Despite laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination, companies look out for their own best interests. Managers often fall back on vague language, interpreting the law in their favor. Many companies believe workers will not challenge their rights at work. This was the case with UPS, who told Peggy Young it would not accommodate the restrictions her pregnancy placed on her ability to perform her job. Instead of finding some way for her to continue to work during her pregnancy, UPS put her on unpaid leave of absence. She bravely fought back.
Peggy Young worked as a driver at UPS. When she got pregnant, her doctor advised her not to lift more than 20 pounds until after she had her baby. UPS requires its drivers to be able to lift at least 70 pounds. UPS refused to make any accommodation for her despite the fact that it made accommodation for other workers. It made accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It made accommodation for employees who lost their Department of Transportation certification. It made accommodation for employees with lifting restrictions from their doctors due to an on-the-job injury.
The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act specifies that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act’s prohibition against sex discrimination applies to discrimination because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. It requires employers to treat women affected by pregnancy . . . the same for all employment-related purposes . . . as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work. In Young v. UPS, the Court was asked to determine how these provisions apply in the context of an employer’s policy that accommodates many, but not all, workers with non-pregnancy-related disabilities.
Based on other U.S. Supreme Court rulings, an individual pregnant employee who seeks to show disparate treatment may make out a prima facie case by showing that she belongs to the protected class, that she sought accommodation, that the employer did not accommodate her, and that the employer did accommodate others similar in their ability or inability to work. The employer may then seek to justify its refusal to accommodate the plaintiff by relying on legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for denying accommodation.
In a pregnancy discrimination matter, that reason normally cannot consist simply of a claim that it is more expensive or less convenient to add pregnant women to the category of those whom the employer accommodates. If the employer offers a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason, the plaintiff may show that it is in fact pre-textual, i.e., that the real motive was discrimination. The plaintiff may reach a jury on this issue by providing sufficient evidence that the employer’s policies impose a significant burden on pregnant workers, and that the employer’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons are not sufficiently strong to justify the burden, but rather—when considered along with the burden imposed—give rise to an inference of intentional discrimination.
UPS argued it did not violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act because there were other groups of non-pregnant workers they did not accommodate. The Court rejected that argument. The Court ruled that a plaintiff can create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether a significant burden exists on pregnant workers—thus allowing the case to go to a jury—by providing evidence that the employer accommodates a large percentage of non-pregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers.
This is an important victory for pregnant workers, because it means that businesses cannot just point to other groups it accommodates in defense of not accommodating pregnant workers. However, it leaves a lot or questions unanswered, such as what constitutes a large percentage of workers? And does the employer already need to be accommodating a large percentage of non-pregnant workers with physical limitations?
There remains vagueness in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act that some companies will surely take advantage of. It will require other courageous persons like Peggy Young to challenge discriminatory practices on behalf of all pregnant workers.
Kilgore & Kilgore works on employee discrimination cases, including pregnancy discrimination, sex discrimination, gender discrimination, age discrimination, any type of unlawful discrimination in the workplace. If you believe you have been denied your employee rights, contact us. Our employment law attorneys are ready to evaluate your situation and tell you from a legal perspective is you have a matter to pursue. Email us at email@example.com or call (214) 969-9099 for a free review of the facts of your case with a Dallas employment law attorney.
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