Title VII: Introduction to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 modified Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include protection based on a woman’s right to be pregnant. The first part of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act establishes that Title VII prohibits discrimination “because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” The second part of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers to treat “women affected by pregnancy . . . the same for all employment-related purposes . . . as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” Since Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, there has been a lot of debate regarding what rights pregnant women have in the workplace in relation to their non-pregnant co-workers. In 2015, in a case called Young v. UPS, the United States Supreme Court answered the question: how must employers treat their pregnant employees when their policy accommodates some, but not all, workers with nonpregnancy related disabilities?
Background Facts: Young v. UPS
The plaintiff, a woman named Peggy Young (“Ms. Young”), worked as a part-time driver for the United Parcel Service (“UPS”). In 2006, Ms. Young became pregnant. At that time, Ms. Young’s doctor advised her not to lift more than 20 pounds for the first part of her pregnancy and then restricted her to 10 pounds for the remainder of her pregnancy. Ms. Young informed UPS about the lift restriction, which conflicted with UPS’s 70-pound lifting requirement for drivers. UPS told Ms. Young that she could not work while under the lift restriction and placed her on extended unpaid leave. Interestingly, UPS had a light-duty-for-injury policy which permitted lifting restrictions for employees injured on the job, employees disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and employees who had lost their Department of Transportation certifications. Ms. Young sued UPS, arguing that these employees required similar restrictions to her lifting limitations; thus constituting discrimination based on her pregnancy by not providing the same accommodations.
The Supreme Court’s Decision
Interpreting the second part of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in favor of Ms. Young, the Supreme Court set forth a new standard in pregnancy discrimination cases. A plaintiff can defeat an employer’s case if she can show that the policy imposes a “significant burden” on pregnant women, and that the employer’s stated reason for taking action against the pregnant employee is not “sufficiently strong” to justify the burden.
The Court went on to say that an employee can demonstrate a “significant burden” by establishing that her employer accommodates a large percentage of non-pregnant workers, while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers. In Young, the court ruled in favor of Ms. Young because she demonstrated that UPS accommodated most non-pregnant employees with lifting restrictions, while failing to provide the same accommodations for pregnant women with lifting restrictions. The Court also noted that the fact that UPS has policies addressing lifting accommodations for non-pregnant employees, but not pregnant employees, was evidence that UPS’s stated reason for the plaintiff’s termination was not “sufficiently strong.”
The takeaway from this case is that employers must provide the same accommodations to pregnant employees as it provides to non-pregnant employees if the policy imposes a “significant burden” on the pregnant employee. As with all disparate treatment cases under Title VII, the employer will have an opportunity to provide a nondiscriminatory, legitimate reason for taking action against a pregnant employee. In Young, the Court made it clear that the employer will not be able to rely on the fact that accommodating pregnant women is “more expensive or less convenient.” Such justifications are not “sufficiently strong” to support the employer’s articulated reason. Therefore, both employers and employees alike need to be mindful of the relevant policies pertaining to accommodations for non-pregnant and pregnant employees.
If you feel your rights under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act have been violated, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 319-9724. We are here to serve you!