Work it Out Blog

U.S. Supreme Court Weighs In on Pregnancy Discrimination

Apr 06, 2015 by Jill C. McQueen

On March 25, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its long awaited decision in Young v. United Parcel Service, a case involving an employer’s duty to accommodate a pregnant worker with light duty work.  In a decision reminiscent of the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Supreme Court found the employee’s interpretation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act went too far, amounting to a “most-favored-nation” status for pregnant workers.  It then found that the employer’s understanding of the law did not go far enough to protect the rights of employees with temporary medical restrictions due to pregnancy.  UPS had defended its policy of making light duty work available only to employees in certain categories, such as those who have been injured on the job, pointing out that pregnant workers were treated identically to other non-pregnant employees who did not fall within these categories.

The Supreme Court rejected both views and announced its own standard: that a pregnant worker claiming she has been treated differently can state a case by showing that that her employer’s actions were the result of an illegal discriminatory purpose.  If she can do that, the employer may offer a legitimate, non-discriminatory explanation for its refusal to accommodate.  This must be more than simply showing it would be too costly or less convenient to extend light duty accommodations to pregnant women.  Even when an employer can show a legitimate reason for its workplace policies, an employee may nevertheless prevail by producing other evidence of  “disparate treatment,” for example, by showing that her employer accommodates a large percentage of non-pregnant workers but fails to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant employees.

Significantly, in reaching its decision, the Supreme Court chose not to adhere to a Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination published by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2014. 

If you have questions about how the high Court’s decision may affect your business, contact Jill McQueen via email at jcmcqueen@dayketterer.com or any of our employment attorneys.

The content of this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice for any purpose. This blog is not intended to present an exhaustive summary of all applicable laws, or to take the place of legal advice.  If you have any questions regarding the law, please contact us for assistance.