The rights of pregnant employees receive a boost

The Supreme Court recently ruled that pregnant workers cannot be treated less favorably than non-pregnant workers simply because it is inconvenient or costly to accommodate pregnancy. In Young v. United Parcel Service, the plaintiff employee had medical restrictions that barred her from lifting more than 20 pounds due to her pregnancy. The employer denied the employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation even though the employer had accommodated several different classes of employees with lifting restrictions, including those injured on the job and those deemed to have a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq.

The Supreme Court rejected each side’s interpretation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq., instead adopting a third interpretation of the law. In short, the majority ruled that pregnant employees may pursue their pregnancy discrimination claims under the traditional disparate treatment approach long recognized by the courts under Title VII, which incorporates the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. In other words, a pregnant employee may prevail when she can show that the employer refused to accommodate her merely because the requested accommodation was inconvenient or costly. In that regard, evidence that the employer has accommodated non-pregnant employees while denying the pregnant employee an similar accommodation would go a long way toward proving pregnancy discrimination.

It remains to be seen what the lower courts will do with the claim in Young, but it is nonetheless clear courts generally will now take a much harder look at employers that do not accommodate pregnant employees. This is a positive development under employment law because it advances the civil rights of millions of women now and in the future.