News

Client Alert – Young v. UPS

Wednesday, April 01, 2015


SUPREME COURT RULES EMPLOYERS MAY BE HELD LIABLE
FOR FAILING TO ACCOMMODATE PREGNANT EMPLOYEES

At Gilpin Givhan’s Annual Labor & Employment Law Seminar on March 18, 2015, we included a presentation on the extent of an employer’s duty to accommodate pregnant employees disabled from working in light of the EEOC’s Updated Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination issued in July 2014, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court’s pending decision in the case of Young v. UPS.  On Wednesday, March 25, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Young.  After analyzing the Court’s opinion, we believe that it will have a significant impact on how employers respond to requests from pregnant employees for work-related accommodations.

At issue in Young was the question of whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to accommodate pregnant employees who are disabled from working, in whole or in part, due to pregnancy.   Ms. Young, a UPS driver, sought a light duty position from UPS as an accommodation of pregnancy-related work restrictions that prevented her from lifting more than 20 pounds.  UPS denied Ms. Young’s request because its light duty policy limited light duty work assignments to employees (1) injured on the job, (2) disabled under the Americans With Disabilities Act, or (3) who temporarily lost their DOT driving certification.  Ms. Young argued that UPS’s policy discriminated against pregnant employees because it provided light duty to some employees who were disabled from working, but not pregnant employees.  By contrast, UPS argued that its light duty policy did not discriminate against pregnant employees because it treated them the same as any other non-pregnant employee who, like Ms. Young, did not fall within one of the three categories of employees eligible for light duty under the policy.

In reversing the lower court’s decision in favor of UPS, the Supreme Court rejected the arguments made by both Young and the UPS, finding Young’s reading of Title VII too broad and UPS’s reading too narrow.  Instead, the Court crafted its own interpretation of how pregnancy accommodation cases should be analyzed under Title VII.  Specifically, the Court held that a pregnant employee alleging that she was unlawfully denied an accommodation will likely be permitted to submit her case to a jury if she provides sufficient evidence that the employer’s stated reasons for denying the accommodation impose “a significant burden on pregnant workers.” The pregnant employee can establish “a significant burden” exists by providing evidence that the employer accommodates a large percentage of non-pregnant employees while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant employees.  

So, what does this decision mean in “non-legalese”?  Essentially, that a pregnant employee who is denied an accommodation can prove intentional discrimination by simply demonstrating that a facially-neutral workplace policy has a disproportionately negative impact on pregnant employees.   The question of whether the employer intended to discriminate against pregnant employees, which is the very essence of a disparate treatment claim under Title VII, is now irrelevant.

What should employers do now?  The advice we suggested during our seminar presentation remains unchanged.  The practical effect of the Court’s ruling is that employers should accommodate pregnant employees with pregnancy-related work restrictions that limit their ability to work so long as they have accommodated non-pregnant employees who are limited in their ability to work, including employees injured on the job or those disabled within the meaning of the ADA.  To this end, employers should reevaluate and, if necessary, revise their policies and procedures regarding accommodation of employees with work restrictions to ensure that they are treating pregnant employees in a manner consistent with their treatment of non-pregnant employees with work restrictions.  When pregnant employees request an accommodation, employers should engage in an interactive discussion with the employee in an attempt to identify an accommodation that is reasonable.  All such discussions should be documented.  Furthermore, prior to denying an accommodation, the employer should make certain that all potential accommodations have been considered.   

To the extent that you have questions or concerns about your current policies or practices with respect to accommodating pregnant employees with work restrictions, please contact Spencer A. Kinderman (skinderman@gilpingivhan.com) or any of Gilpin Givhan’s labor and employment attorneys, whose contact information can be found here.  We stand ready to provide you with assistance and guidance.

Return to News