Supreme Court strengthens protections for pregnant workers in Young v. UPS

The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued an opinion that changes the standard under which pregnancy discrimination claims will be decided.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a highly anticipated opinion on a case involving a pregnancy discrimination claim. In Young v. UPS, a worker filed a lawsuit against her employer for failing to make reasonable accommodations for her while pregnant. UPS allowed work accommodations for temporarily disabled workers, but not for pregnant women.

The case arose when UPS placed a pregnant worker on temporary unpaid leave rather than allow work accommodations similar to those it issued for temporarily disabled workers, such as those who suffered a work injury.

On March 25, the Supreme Court ultimately held that a pregnant employee can successfully claim pregnancy discrimination under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act if all of the following are true:

  • She belongs to a protected class (pregnancy is a protected class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act through a clause in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act).
  • She sought a reasonable accommodation from her employer on the basis of pregnancy.
  • The employer failed to make those reasonable requested accommodations.
  • The employer accommodated others "similar in their ability or inability to work."

The case has been watched closely, with advocates for workplace rights lauding the decision as a victory for women in the workplace. Importantly, the failure to accommodate a pregnant worker is not by itself inherently discriminatory under this decision. Instead, the burden shifts to the employer to prove that failing to accommodate a pregnant worker was not discriminatory and for a legitimate business purpose.

What exactly this means is unclear, but the Supreme Court wrote in its opinion that cost and inconvenience are not legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons to deny pregnant workers work accommodations when it does so for other workers that require them. This standard appears to be a high burden that incentivizes employers to not discriminate against pregnant workers. However, how courts in Michigan and Ohio and across the country treat this standard remains to be seen.

The nation's highest court sent the case back down to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to decide the matter under this new standard. Both lower courts that heard the case had previously decided for UPS.

Pregnancy and family responsibilities discrimination in Michigan and Ohio

Unfortunately, pregnancy discrimination is still all too common in the workplace, despite increasingly strict laws against the practice. Employees who believe they have experienced workplace discrimination because of pregnancy should contact the experienced attorneys at NachtLaw. Our attorneys have significant experience protecting the rights of family caregivers, pregnant employees, and employees who experienced retaliation for taking leave under the Family Medical Leave Rights Act. Contact our office to discuss your situation and legal options.

Keywords: Pregnancy discrimination, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, U.S. Supreme Court, Young v. UPS, NachtLaw

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