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Pregnant Workers Entitled to Reasonable Accommodations

The United States Supreme Court recently addressed the issue in the case of Young v. United Parcel Service. Peggy Young was a part-time driver for UPS. Her responsibilities included pickup and delivery of packages that had arrived by air carrier the previous night. In 2006, after suffering several miscarriages, she became pregnant. Her doctor told her that she should not lift more than 20 pounds. However, UPS required drivers to be able to lift packages weighing up to 70 pounds, and told Young she could not work while under a lifting restriction. She stayed at home without pay during most of her pregnancy and eventually lost her employee medical coverage.

Young subsequently sued UPS under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act for unlawfully refusing to accommodate her lifting restriction. She contended that her co-workers were willing to help her with heavy packages. She also argued that UPS accommodated other drivers who were similar in their ability to work and therefore was obligated to accommodate her as well. The lower court denied Young’s request for a jury trial and dismissed her case on summary judgment, finding that UPS’s refusal to accommodate Young was not discriminatory because while UPS did accommodate certain nonpregnant employees, it did not deny reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees alone, but to various nonpregnant employees as well. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the case.

In reversing the appellate court’s ruling, the Supreme Court held that a pregnant employee has a right to a jury trial in a failure to accommodate claim if she can show that she sought and was denied an accommodation, and that the employer did accommodate others similar in their ability or inability to work regardless of pregnancy. In reaching this conclusion, the Court stated that a plaintiff may reach a jury on this issue by providing sufficient evidence that the employer accommodates a large percentage of nonpregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers. From this evidence a jury could find that an employer’s reasons for failing to accommodate pregnant employees gives rise to an inference of intentional discrimination.

Although the statutory changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2008 may limit the future significance of the court decision in Young, the decision nonetheless illustrates recognition that pregnant employees are entitled to every protection in the workplace enjoyed by nonpregnant employees.

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