Supreme Highlight: Young v. UPS Delivers Pregnancy Discrimination Issue

UPS loves logistics, but allegedly not accommodating pregnant employees.  As previously promised, an upcoming Supreme Court case to keep an eye on for its potential impact to the workplace is Young v. United Parcel Service.  At issue is UPS’s policy (pursuant to its internal policies and a collective bargaining agreement) of offering light-duty work assignments (temporarily or permanently) only to: (1) employees who were injured on the job; (2) employees who were eligible for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act; and (3) drivers who had lost their DOT certifications because of failed medical exams, lost drivers licenses, or involvement in motor vehicle accidents.  UPS did not offer such assignments to employees with pregnancy-related limitations.   Cue the lawsuit.

The issue presented: Whether, and in what circumstances, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k), requires an employer that provides work accommodations to non-pregnant employees with work limitations to provide work accommodations to pregnant employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.”

Notably, the United States weighed in by filing not one, but two amicus curiae briefs.  The first brief, which was filed in May, said that the question presented does not need to be answered by the Supremes because the solution can be found in the Americans with Disabilities because … (quick self-test on if you know the answer) … after the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, pregnancy-related medical conditions can constitute disabilities that require accommodation (or at least engaging in the interactive process in an attempt to find a reasonable accommodation).  Essentially, the U.S. stated that the ADA, after the ADAAA, overlaps and fills-in the gaps in the PDA, OK?

In its second brief, which was filed in September, the U.S. took a much-hardened stance, unequivocally stating, “A plaintiff can establish a violation of Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination by introducing direct evidence of an employer’s policy that treats a class of nonpregnant employees with work limitations more favorably than it treats employees with comparable limitations related to pregnancy.”  The difference in tone is likely attributable to the EEOC’s issuance of guidance on pregnancy discrimination in July, which made this stance a bit more clear, even if it wasn’t necessarily reflected by the courts.

We’ll wait and see what happens with this case, but it certainly opens the door for much broader pregnancy-related protections, similar to (though likely not as great as) what we’ve seen with the Americans with Disabilities Act in more recent years.