Last year, I wrote about the then-new pregnancy guidelines issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), which apply to all employers with more than fifteen employees. While a “normal” pregnancy does not constitute a disability under the ADA, it is a serious health condition under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), entitling a pregnant employee to FMLA leave. The EEOC’s 2014 Guidelines addressed the “middle” ground, where a pregnant employee is not “disabled” and does not seek leave, but requests light duty instead. The EEOC requires that employers reasonably accommodate a pregnant employee with light duty or modified assignments.
Earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Young v. United Parcel Service, 575 U.S. ___ (2015). In that case, UPS denied a pregnant worker’s request for light duty after her doctor told her not to lift heavy packages. She was a part-time UPS driver and her position required her to be able to lift up to 70 pounds. Her doctor told her to lift no more than 20 pounds. In response to her request, UPS told her that light duty was only available to employees with job-related injuries or to those employees with disabilities recognized under the ADA. In Young, the Supreme Court held that if accommodations are given to employees with similar activity restrictions (albeit for other reasons), similar accommodations must be provided to pregnant employees who request accommodation.
The case had been dismissed outright by the lower courts, and the Supreme Court found a “genuine dispute as to whether UPS provided more favorable treatment to at least some employees whose situation cannot reasonably be distinguished from [Ms.] Young’s.” The Court asked “why, when [UPS] accommodated so many, it not accommodate pregnant women as well?” The Court did not go so far as to find that UPS had discriminated against Ms. Young, but the decision enables Ms. Young to continue her lawsuit, and to argue that the reason she was not accommodated was her pregnancy.
Employers who have “neutral” light duty accommodations should consider how to reasonably accommodate pregnant workers as well, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Young.