The United States Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act required employers to accommodate the work restrictions given to pregnant employees in the same way they do for non-pregnant employees with injuries and other temporary impairments.
The petitioner, Peggy Young, was a part-time delivery driver for United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS). During her pregnancy, her physician provided her with a lifting restriction of no more than 20 pounds, which her employer refused to accommodate, even though UPS offered light duty to workers who had been injured during the course of their duties. Young eventually sued, claiming a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. The Fourth Circuit ruled that the Act did not require UPS to accommodate a worker’s pregnancy, stating that the Act’s “plain statutory text” as well as its statutory purpose did not support Young’s interpretation. The Court found that UPS’s “pregnancy-blind” accommodation was sufficient and did not constitute disparate treatment.
However, the Fourth Circuit’s decision conflicts with a Sixth Circuit decision dating back to 1996. In Ensley-Gaines v. Runyon, the Sixth Circuit found that not only did the Pregnancy Discrimination Act recognize Title VII’s ban on sexual discrimination, but also provided added protection to pregnant women by requiring employers to provide them with the same accommodation as non-pregnant employees who were “similar” in their ability to work. Furthermore, the Sixth Circuit had found that a pregnant woman did not need to make a showing that a worker who received better treatment was similarly situated in every way. The pregnant employee just needed to show that a non-pregnant employee with a similar ability (or inability) to work was receiving more favorable treatment.
The Tenth Circuit made a similar decision to the Sixth Circuit, while the Fourth Circuit’s decision agreed with the stance taken by the Eleventh, Seventh, and Fifth Circuits. If the Supreme Court does not resolve the split, it is possible that the ADA Amendments Act will. The Act, which took effect in 2009, could cause courts to reevaluate their approach to a pregnant woman’s claim under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. At the same time, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will consider adopting new enforcement guidance that would address multiple issues involving pregnancy under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the ADA Amendments Act. The United States Solicitor General recommended that the Supreme Court deny review for this reason, even though he agreed with Young’s interpretation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
Meanwhile, Congress has introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would amend the existing law and require all employers to grant reasonable accommodation for work limitations due to pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions that are related. If the Supreme Court fails to offer clarity, the Act, should it pass, might do so.
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