On March 25, 2015, the United States Supreme Court clarified employers’ obligations towards women placed on work restrictions while pregnant and held that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers to treat “women affected by pregnancy” the same “as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” In Young v. United Parcel Service, a pregnant UPS driver was ordered by her doctor not to lift more than 20 pounds. UPS, however, required drivers to lift up to 70 pounds. Although UPS made accommodations for employees injured on the job or suffering from a disability, it did not offer accommodations to Young for her pregnancy-related work restrictions. Instead, Young was put on unpaid leave. The Supreme Court determined this policy could be evidence of intentional discrimination.
The Supreme Court was highly critical of the EEOC’s July 2014 guidance on the topic, based upon a lack of “consistency,” and “thoroughness” of “consideration” in the guidance. The Court noted that the statute does not grant pregnant employees an “unconditional most-favored-nation status.” The employer may present evidence of legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for denying the pregnant employee accommodations. But the Court also cautioned that those legitimate non-discriminatory reasons “normally cannot consist simply of a claim that it is more expensive or less convenient to add pregnant women to the category of those… whom the employer accommodates.”
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