Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Pregnant Employee Who Claims She Was Denied an Accommodation for Lifting Restrictions

A delivery driver for United Parcel Service (UPS) filed suit against her employer after it allegedly refused to assign her to light duty due to pregnancy-related lifting restrictions. She claimed that the company violated her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978, which defines discrimination on the basis of pregnancy as a form of unlawful sex discrimination. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a U.S. district judge’s order dismissing the lawsuit. Young v. United Parcel Service (“Young I“), 707 F.3d 437 (4th Cir. 2013). The Supreme Court vacated this ruling and remanded the case to the trial court, finding that the plaintiff was entitled to trial on the question of whether she suffered unlawful discrimination. Young v. United Parcel Service (“Young II“), 575 U.S. ___ (2015). While the case was pending, UPS announced a reversal of its policy on light duty for pregnant employees.

The plaintiff worked as a part-time delivery driver. The job description required the ability to lift packages weighing up to 70 pounds. When the plaintiff became pregnant, her doctor told her that she should not lift more than 20 pounds during the first 20 weeks, and no more than 10 pounds after that. The defendant refused to put her on light duty, despite, according to the plaintiff, accommodating other employees with similar lifting restrictions. The plaintiff went on unpaid leave, which resulted in the loss of her employee health insurance.

The defendant’s policy was to provide light duty for employees who were injured on the job, were entitled to an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or had lost their certification from the Department of Transportation. Pregnancy did not fit into any of these categories, according to the defendant. The Fourth Circuit held that this policy did not violate the PDA because the plaintiff’s pregnancy was unrelated to her job, the policy only applied to job-related conditions, and it treated “pregnant workers and nonpregnant workers alike.” Young I, 707 F.3d at 449.

Since the light duty policy did not expressly exclude pregnancy, the Supreme Court applied a four-prong test to evaluate “disparate treatment through indirect evidence.” Young II, slip op. at 1, citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). The “McDonnell Douglas analysis,” which originally involved a claim of discriminatory failure to hire, places the initial burden on the plaintiff to prove that: (1) they belong to a minority; (2) they applied for a job for which they were qualified, and for which the defendant was hiring; (3) they were rejected despite their qualifications; and (4) the defendant continued accepting applications for the job from similarly qualified people. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802.

Justice Breyer, writing for the majority, noted that the fourth prong of the McDonnell Douglas analysis required the plaintiff to demonstrate that the defendant “accommodated others similar in their ability or inability to work.” Young II at 20-21. The majority held that the plaintiff had created a “genuine dispute of material fact” regarding this question. Id. at 23. Since the matter under appeal was an order granting summary judgment, this was enough to vacate the order and remand the case.

If you need to speak to an employment discrimination attorney in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group online, at 973-781-1204, or at (646) 867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Employers Required by State Law to Provide Employees with Notice of Gender Equity Rights, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, March 14, 2014
Pregnancy Now a Protected Class Under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, February 6, 2014
New York Attorney General Announces Settlement Reached in Pregnancy Discrimination and Harassment Lawsuit Against Syracuse Mortuary School, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, December 6, 2013

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