• Dean Royer

Proving pregnancy discrimination

A new way to prove pregnancy discrimination.

On March 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court established a new standard for proving discrimination against pregnant employees. In Young v. UPS (U.S. 2015) 191 L. Ed. 2d 279, the high court had to decide how the federal employment discrimination law (Title VII) applies in the context of an em­ployer’s policy that accommodates many, but not all, workers with nonpregnancy-related disabilities.

The portion of Title VII that the Supreme Court interpreted is: “[W]omen affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes…as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” Ms. Young asserted that this language requires an employer to provide the same accommodations to work­place disabilities caused by pregnancy that it provides to workplace disabilities that have other causes but have a similar effect on the ability to work. UPS contended that the clause requires a comparison of the accommodations an employer provides to pregnant women with the accommodations it provides to others within a facially neutral category (such as those with off-the-job injuries) to determine whether the em­ployer has violated Title VII.

The high court rejected both parties’ interpretations. Instead, it concluded that a pregnant employee alleging that the denial of an accommo­dation is a violation of Title VII may reach a jury by providing sufficient evidence that (1) the employer’s policies impose a significant burden on preg­nant workers, and (2) that the legitimate, nondis­criminatory reasons offered by the employer are not sufficiently strong to justify the burden. The Supreme Court determined that a significant burden exists when the employer accommodates a large per­centage of nonpregnant workers while failing to accommo­date a large percentage of pregnant workers.

In the case at hand, the high court indicated that Ms. Young could show a significant burden based on the following facts. After Ms. Young became pregnant, her doctor recommended that she not lift objects greater than 20 pounds for the first 20 weeks of pregnancy and not greater than 10 pounds thereafter. UPS required its drivers, including Ms. Young, to lift packages weighing up to 70 pounds. UPS told Ms. Young she could not work during her pregnancy, and that it could not offer her a temporary alternative work assignment. But other UPS employees received accommodations while suffering similar or more serious disabili­ties incurred on the job, and several employees received “inside” jobs after los­ing their driving certifications. The Supreme Court noted that Ms. Young could show that UPS accommodates most nonpregnant employ­ees with lifting limitations while categorically failing to accommodate pregnant employees with lifting limitations.

The Supreme Court stated that this method of proof is limited to a pregnancy discrimination claim context. Nevertheless, this decision provides guidance to employees with such claims.

#Discrimination #TitleVII

Recent Posts

See All

September 2020 employment law decisions

Case alleging employer’s confidentiality agreement violates employees’ speech may proceed. September 21, 2020, First District Court of Appeal, John Doe v. Google, Inc.: current and former employees of

August 2020 employment law decisions

Wrongful termination verdict upheld but punitive damages reduced. August 24, 2020, Third District Court of Appeal, Timothy King v. U.S. Bank National Association: A jury found in favor of Mr. King for

June and July 2020 employment law decisions

Receipt of government funds conditioned on compliance with the law does not make a private employer a state actor for purposes of constitutional claims. July 20, 2020, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals,

©2020 by Law Office of Dean Royer.