In 2006, Peggy Young worked for UPS as a pickup and delivery worker while she was pregnant. Her doctor restricted her from lifting items heavier than 20 pounds during her first 20 weeks of pregnancy, and items heavier than 10 pounds during the remainder of her pregnancy. UPS placed Young on leave without pay because, as a pickup and delivery driver, the company required her to be able pick up parcels weighing up to 70 pounds. In this article of Astronology® we discuss the Young v. UPS Supreme Court decision and what it means for organizations in the future.
Some Background Information
Although UPS has a light duty program, Peggy did not qualify because the program is only for employees in the following circumstances:
- Those with limitations resulting from work-related injuries
- Those covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Those who had lost their Department of Transportation Certification
Peggy applied for light duty. Because she did not fit the three criteria, she was denied access to the program. Eventually, she had to take unpaid leave that resulted in her losing her medical benefits. Young sued UPS based on what she felt was pregnancy discrimination. UPS argued that its policy did not discriminate due to her pregnancy and is based on workers’ compensation status.
Supreme Court Decision
The Courts rejected both parties’ arguments, noting that if a light-duty job / program is available, an employer does not have to offer it to pregnant employees. It also ruled that UPS’ workers’ compensation-based defense was faulty. The Supreme Court gave a three step approach:
- An employee can dispute that a light duty program appears to ignore pregnant employees.
- The employer can justify its exclusions if based on a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason.”
- The employee can contest the employer’s reasoning. If sufficient evidence displays that the employer’s policy imposes a “significant burden” on a pregnant worker and the employer’s reasons are not strong enough to justify the employee’s burden, the employee’s claim can reach a jury.
This test leaves a lot of things open to discussion. How strong enough must the employer’s reasoning be? How do you determine what a “significant burden” is? What is “significant” for a pregnant employee? As an organization what do you do to ensure that you are in compliance? Entrepreneur’s online website explains:
- If you have a light duty program that excludes pregnant employees, assume it may be challenged, and if so, that the case likely will end up before a jury. The odds of winning are not good.
- If you don’t have a light duty program, you don’t have to create one. That is, you do not have to give pregnancy a preference. Indeed, an employer that has a light duty program could conclude that, based on the Court’s decision, the program may not serve its intended purpose, and constrict or abolish it.
- Even if an employer does not offer light duty, the organization cannot treat employees with disabilities associated with pregnancy or childbirth less favorably than those with other disabilities that similarly hinder the ability to work. Employers should also note that the definition of disability was expanded significantly under the amended ADA, so that even temporary conditions may constitute a disability if they severely impact a major life activity. Therefore, most medical limitations associated with pregnancy or childbirth likely will be disabilities that must be accommodated. This does not necessarily mean light duty. An employer generally does not have to eliminate essential functions, only accommodate to a reasonable extent how they are achieved.
- Employers should have a reasonable accommodation policy that makes clear that coverage of physical and mental conditions includes those associated with pregnancy or childbirth. In some states and local jurisdictions, such as New Jersey and New York City, employers may have to accommodate pregnant employees even if they are not disabled. Employers in those jurisdictions will need to make that accommodation clear as well.
Another thing to keep in mind is what laws your state may have in regards to pregnancy discrimination. At least 12 states have enacted laws that treat pregnancy like a disability which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. How far an organization must go to reasonably accommodate an employee can be different state to state. Astronology® readers, how has the Young v. UPS ruling affected your organization’s policies? Share your thoughts with us!