Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Pregnancy Accommodation at Work

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday scales-gavelin a case that could have far-reaching effects on employers and their pregnant employees. Young v. United Parcel Service Inc. (4th Cir. 2013). The case concerns whether and to what extent employers must accommodate the work restrictions of pregnant workers under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).

In that case, UPS placed driver Peggy Young on unpaid leave for the duration of her pregnancy when her doctor recommended a 20-pound lifting restriction. UPS said the lifting requirements of her job exceeded the restriction and light duty was not available. UPS contended it treated Young consistently with other employees unable to perform essential job functions due to an off-the-job injury or condition. Moreover, as a unionized employer, UPS said providing light duty would contravene terms of its collective bargaining agreement. UPS’s “pregnancy-blind” policy prevailed in the Fourth Circuit, but the Supreme Court is poised to clarify what “shall be treated the same” under the PDA means, and whether disability-like accommodations should be considered.

Just two weeks after the Supreme Court announced that it would review the Young decision, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) joined the fray by issuing non-binding guidance saying that it interprets the PDA to require employers to provide accommodations to pregnant workers similar to those required by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The EEOC also said that limiting light-duty assignments to workers injured on the job violates the PDA.

The Court will likely issue its decision in May or June 2015. As an interesting side note, in October 2014, UPS changed its policy so pregnant workers would be eligible for light-duty assignments, though it is still defending the old policy in court.