Even with the EEOC's new enforcement guidelines, explaining the various protections pregnant employees have from discrimination in the workplace, disparate treatment still occurs. The United Parcel Service recently settled a 9-year-old pregnancy discrimination suit, after the Supreme Court ruled that its policies violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, enacted in 1978, prohibits employers from discriminating against pregnant women in hiring, termination, compensation, work assignments, career development, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment. Employers are also prohibited from treating pregnant women different from other employees because of their pregnancy or any pregnancy-related conditions. This type of biased treatment is considered a form of sex discrimination.
UPS Driver Alleges Denial of Requested Accommodation
A UPS driver, Peggy Young, filed a lawsuit against United Parcel Service nine years ago, alleging she had been unfairly discriminated against because she was pregnant. Young stated in her lawsuit that her doctor placed her on light duty because of her pregnancy, but the UPS refused to accommodate this request. Instead, the UPS forced Young to take unpaid medical leave, denying her health insurance coverage, as well. However, according to Young, other employees who were not pregnant but had injuries or disabilities, were accommodated with light duty assignments instead of unpaid leave.
UPS Asserted it had a Neutral Accommodation Policy
UPS, in its defense, showed that it had a standard policy related to disability accommodations, which it asserted was "pregnancy-blind." The trial court agreed that the policy did not constitute sex discrimination and dismissed the case. The lower court reasoned that the driver's claims could not, as a matter of law, be a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act since all of the UPS employees were treated the same. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the dismissal of the case.
The United States Supreme Court Disagreed
The UPS case was ultimately appealed all the way to the Supreme Court before it was finally settled. The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals, in March of 2015, allowing the UPS driver's claims of pregnancy discrimination to finally proceed to trial. After the Supreme Court's ruling was made and the case was sent back to the trial court, UPS finally reached a settlement agreement with Young.
UPS Changes its Policy
EEOC's new enforcement guidelines provide more clarity on the requirements and protections of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, including making it much clearer that pregnant women must be placed on light duty, when the company offers light duty to other employees, even if doing so would be more expensive or less convenient. During the nine years this case was pending, UPS actually changed its official pregnant employee policy to allow pregnant women to be placed on light duty assignments rather than be forced to go on unpaid leave.
If you feel you have been the victim of pregnancy discrimination, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment attorneys at Michel | King , either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.