United States Supreme Court Rules in Landmark Pregnancy Discrimination Case

On March 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its long-anticipated decision in Young v. United Parcel Service, 575 U.S. __ (2015), in which it interpreted the second clause of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in a manner that expands the rights of pregnant employees to workplace accommodation.  The Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA") is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which extends Title VII's protection against sex discrimination to pregnant employees, making it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on pregnancy, child-birth, or related medical conditions.  The second clause of the PDA  requires employers to treat female employees affected by pregnancy the same, for all employment-related purposes, as non-pregnant employees, who are similar in their ability or inability to work.  The issue in Young was whether an employment policy that provided disability accommodation for some but not all categories of non-pregnant employees violated the PDA by denying disability accommodation to pregnant employees.

Young was a driver with pregnancy-related lifting restrictions who requested but was denied light duty assignment, while non-pregnant drivers who sustained on-the-job injuries, had ADA-qualified disabilities, or lost their DOT certification were allowed light duty assignment.  A pregnant employee may establish a claim for pregnancy discrimination by showing that: (1) she is in the protected class; (2) she requested accommodation; (3) she was denied the accommodation; and (4) the employer granted accommodation to non-pregnant employees, who are similar in their ability or inability to work.  The employer may advance a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason; and the employee may prove that the reason is pretextual, with evidence that the employer's policy imposes significant burdens on pregnant employees, and that its reason, rather than justifying the denial, raises an inference of discrimination.  A significant burden exists where the employer accommodates a large percentage of non-pregnant employees, but fails to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant employees.  The Supreme Court held that under its interpretation of the PDA, reversal of summary judgment was warranted, because Young raised factual questions as to whether UPS provided more favorable treatment to indistinguishable non-pregnant employees.  The Supreme Court remanded the case to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to determine whether Young also created questions of material fact as to whether UPS' reasons for having treated Young less favorably were pretextual.