Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Young v. UPS, a case involving an employer’s denial of a pregnant employee’s request for light duty work.

The law at issue is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to require that, “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work…” 42 U.S. Code § 2000e(k) (emphasis added).

Peggy Young, a pregnant employee of UPS, requested light-duty work as a result of her doctor’s 20 pound lifting restrictions. UPS had a policy which provided for light-duty work assignments to employees who (1) were disabled within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), (2) had been injured on the job, or (3) had lost their commercial driver’s license. Because Ms. Young did not fall within any of those three categories, UPS denied Ms. Young’s request and placed her on unpaid leave, without benefits.

Ms. Young filed suit, claiming UPS’s policy discriminated against pregnant employees. After all, UPS granted accommodations to other persons with medical restrictions who were “similar in their inability to work.” Both the District Court of Maryland and the Fourth Circuit Court of appeals granted summary judgment in favor of UPS. These courts concluded, among other things, that UPS’s policy was neutral and did not discriminate against pregnant employees: according to the policy, pregnant workers were treated the same as non-pregnant workers who had an off-the-job injury and whose medical condition was not disabling. In both cases – that of a pregnant employee and that of a non-disabled employee whose injury arose of the job– the UPS workers were not entitled to accommodation.

Despite UPS’s position in court, it has since changed its policy to accommodate pregnant workers by offering them light duty work, starting January 1.

The Supreme Court now must decide what Congress meant when it passed the PDA, a law which was intended to guarantee equal treatment to pregnant women in the workforce.

For more information on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance, please see Attorney Nicholas Fairweather’s blog post. If you are a pregnant women experiencing workplace discrimination due to your pregnancy, please contact the employment discrimination attorneys at Hawks Quindel to discuss your situation.

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