In a 6-3 decision the U.S. Supreme Court this week revived Peggy Young’s pregnancy accommodation claims against UPS. The high court’s decision clarifies how the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is to be applied to pregnant employees who work for employers that accommodate employees with nonpregnancy-related disabilities.
The PDA is a 1978 addition to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law has two main parts. First, it says that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination applies to discrimination “because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” Second, it says that employers must 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.”
At issue in Young’s case was the fact that after she became pregnant, her doctor imposed a 20 pound lifting restriction. UPS had a 70 pound lifting requirement for drivers like Young, so they told her she could not work while under that restriction. Young, however, presented evidence that UPS accommodated other workers who suffered on-the-job injuries, had ADA-qualifying disabilities, or had lost their Department of Transportation certifications. Thus, Young claimed that UPS violated the PDA by accommodating the other workers but not those who were pregnant.
The District Court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals both rejected Young’s claims, but the Supreme Court disagreed with the lower courts and revived her case. In so doing, the court established the following framework for proving that a woman was subjected to unlawful disparate treatment under the pregnancy accommodation requirements of the PDA.
First, the woman must present evidence that: (a) she belongs to the protected class; (b) she sought accommodation; (c) the employer did not accommodate her; and (d) the employer accommodated others “similar in their ability or inability to work.” If the employee proves that much, the employer may then try to justify its failure to accommodate by presenting evidence of “legitimate, nondiscriminatory” reasons for denying accommodation. If the employer does so, the employee may then try to rebut that evidence with evidence that the employer’s reason was a pretext (that is, a facade or cover-up of the real discriminatory reason).
The case clarifies that pregnancy accommodation claims can be brought under the PDA, and it establishes what must be proved in order to win such cases. Therefore, it is important for employers and employees to understand their respective rights and obligations under this law. In particular they need to recognize that employers must accommodate pregnant employees if they accommodate nonpregnant employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.”
Finally, here’s a reminder for Minnesota employers and employees. The state’s Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), which was passed in 2014, includes its own pregnancy accommodation requirements. This law only applies to Minnesota employers with 21 or more employees. The PDA, however, applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Consequently, smaller employers (15-20 employees) will only have to comply with the PDA, but larger ones will need to comply with both laws.
For more information, please contact Swenson Lervick’s MSBA-Certified Labor and Employment Law Specialist, Tom Jacobson.
The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.
Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA