“Pregnancy at Work: Do You Know The Rules?”

By Vicki Crochet

In 2015, the United States Supreme Court considered under what circumstances the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of Title VII (42 USC 2000e(k)) requires accommodation of pregnant employees. In Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 1338 (2015), the court addressed the issue of whether the PDA required an employer to offer light duty to an employee with a pregnancy-related lifting restriction when the employer granted such an accommodation to at least some non-pregnant employees with non-pregnancy related lifting restrictions.

The PDA prohibits sex discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions and requires women with these conditions be treated the same as other non-pregnant employees similar in their ability or inability to work.

Peggy Young worked as a part time driver for UPS. Her responsibilities included pickup and delivery of packages. Because of past pregnancy complications her doctor placed a 20- pound lifting limitation on her during the first 20 weeks of her pregnancy and 10-pound limitation thereafter. UPS required drivers to be able to lift up to 70 pounds. Because she could not work while under the lifting restriction Ms. Young remained on leave without pay for most of her pregnancy, and ultimately, lost her medical coverage.

Ms. Young alleged other non-pregnant employees were granted a light duty accommodation, which she had requested. UPS’s light duty policy applied to employees who had been injured on the job; those who had lost their DOT certification; and those who had a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). UPS argued that its policy was pregnancy neutral, and that since Ms. Young did not fall into any of the policy’s categories she could be denied light duty.

The case was dismissed by the trial court on Motion for Summary Judgment and this decision was affirmed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal. The United States Supreme Court agreed to review Ms. Young’s case.

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court reversed the Fourth Circuit’s decision and found that a pregnant employee such as Ms. Young could prove a PDA violation if an employer’s pregnancy neutral policies placed a “significant burden” on pregnant workers without a “sufficiently strong justification”. According to the court, even employer policies that do not intend to discriminate based on pregnancy may nevertheless violate the PDA.

The Young court explained a pregnant employee must still show she sought accommodation and the employer accommodated others similar in their inability to work. If she does this, the employer must offer legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for its action. A pregnant employee may show the reason is a pretext by providing sufficient evidence the employer’s policies impose a significant burden on pregnant workers and the employer’s legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons are not sufficiently strong enough to justify the burden.

Although the law and this decision do not require that employers favor pregnant employees, if you provide leave or other accommodation for non-pregnant employees these standards may apply. Further, pregnancy-related conditions may be disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and employers may have to provide accommodation that is not an undue burden. Further, pregnant employees are also entitled to FMLA leave both before and after childbirth.

Finally, there are special rules that govern pregnancy-related disability in Louisiana. Under Louisiana law (La.R.S. 23:0341) an employer with 20 or more employees must grant up to four months of unpaid leave to an employee who is disabled on account of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

Making decisions about pregnant employees can be complicated and several laws apply to them. Such decisions should be made carefully and in consultation with legal counsel.

The attorneys in Taylor Porter’s Labor and Employment Group offer a combined more than 100 years of experience in the area of labor and employment law. They have assisted clients in connection with compliance with federal, state and local employment regulations and are experienced in handling labor negotiations, union grievances and arbitrations, Civil Service matters, and representing employers before federal and state regulatory agencies such as the EEOC, the Department of Labor, and the State Civil Service Commission. They have reviewed and revised employment policies and manuals as well as provided comprehensive legal support to employers in all aspects of the employment relationship. They have authored and annually update Louisiana Employment, the treatise on employment law as it applies to Louisiana employers. Additionally, they are experienced in handling sensitive personnel issues and complex employment litigation.

Please note that this client alert is for informational purposes only. For legal advice pertaining to your own company and interests on this new developing information, please consult one of our Taylor Porter attorneys or your existing representation.