Reasonable Accommodation and Pregnancy. They should go together, shouldn’t they?

UPDATE (March 25, 2015):

The Supreme Court reinstated the pregnancy discrimination case against UPS and sent it back to the lower court. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court found that Peggy Young had the right to sue UPS for pregnancy discrimination for refusing to accommodate her with light duty after her doctor ordered her not to lift more than twenty pounds while pregnant.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act states that women “affected by pregnancy or related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.” The Supreme Court said Young’s case depended on how UPS could answer one question: “Why, when the employer accommodated so many, could it not accommodate pregnant women as well?”

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75% of American women will be pregnant and working at some point during their life, and nearly 90% of U.S. adults either have or want to have children. So why are there still so many claims of discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace?

Young vs. United Parcel Service (UPS)

Peggy Young was a delivery driver who worked for UPS. When Young became pregnant, her doctor told her not to lift more than twenty pounds. However, the UPS employee policy requires employees to be able to lift up to seventy pounds. Young asked to be placed on light duty for the duration of her pregnancy. UPS denied her request because her pregnancy wasn’t a disability or an on-the-job injury. UPS policy states that employees who are injured on-the-job, are disabled, or have lost their commercial driver’s license qualify for light duty. Since Young’s condition didn’t fall into any of those three categories, she was not eligible. Young was placed on unpaid leave and lost her medical benefits.

Young sued UPS under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), claiming she had been the victim of gender- and disability-based discrimination. UPS maintains that they were not required to offer accommodations under the ADA because her pregnancy did not equate to a disability. UPS states that the point of the PDA is to make sure pregnant women are “treated equally, not better, than fellow employees.”

Two lower courts have already ruled in favor of UPS and now the case has been brought before the Supreme Court. It could take months for the Supreme Court to make its decision.

In the meantime UPS has said that they have voluntarily revised their policy to offer light duty to pregnant workers. The revised policy will be in effect starting in January 2015.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This amendment states that women “affected by pregnancy or related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.”

Under the PDA:

“If an employee is temporarily unable to perform her job because of her pregnancy, the employer must treat her the same as any other temporarily disabled employee. For example, if the employer allows temporarily disabled employees to modify tasks, perform alternative assignments, or take disability leave or leave without pay, the employer also must allow an employee who is temporarily disabled because of pregnancy to do the same.”

Reasonable Accommodation

Reasonable accommodation is defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as “any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.”

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities. The ADA is enforced by the Department of Labor (DOL), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

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  1. […] the FMLA, prevents the insidious practice of employers acting on these stereotypes, and prevents the 75% of women who will become pregnant at some point in their careers from being forced out of their […]

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