What the Supreme Court’s Recent Decision on Pregnancy Discrimination Means for you

pregnant woman being examined by doctor
In December of last year, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case entitled “Young versus United Parcel Service/UPS.” This is the most high-profile case in pregnancy discrimination in several decades.

The question at hand is equality. Does a pregnant employee have the same rights as an employee who becomes incapacitated due to illness or injury? If a company makes arrangements for the latter, must they also do it for the former? And to what extent? These are heavy questions to be sure.

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The Case

Peggy Young, a UPS driver at the time, became pregnant and was instructed by her doctor that she could not lift over 20 pounds. Instead of giving her a different job that would help her comply with the weight restriction, UPS placed her on unpaid medical leave. During that time she lost her medical benefits.

She alleges other employees with injuries were given jobs that still allowed them to work. Why shouldn’t the same be done for pregnant women?

UPS makes accommodations for employees injured on the job but not employees who get injured outside of work. UPS has a “pregnancy blind” policy. All employees injured outside of work are not accommodated the same way as those injured on the job, pregnant or not.

The Issue

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) requires companies be fair. If they extend opportunities to injured or ill employees, or require them to use unpaid leave, the same requirements or opportunities must be given to pregnant women.

But it also leaves much room for interpretation. Companies are instructed to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant woman. But what is reasonable? And as in this case, UPS is being fair in that Young was treated the same as one group of injured employees, employees who injured themselves outside of work. But is it fair to have a dual policy — accommodations for those injured on and those injured off? Will that hold up?

What this Case Means for You

This case will set forth the modern interpretation of the decades-old Pregnancy Discrimination Act. It, along with several others percolating through the courts, will become the basis for how employers will be instructed to act. It may set new precedents and determinations for “reasonable accommodations.” Currently, that determination is still left up to the employer (for companies with over 15 employees).

The fact that there are so many court cases on the subject being heard by higher courts and several pieces of legislation that have been passed and in circulation shows a turning of tides or at least a desire to revisit current “open” interpretation.

However, many believe defining “reasonable accommodations” won’t be necessary under recently implemented amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The new language stipulates a much broader interpretation of disability and a shorter time frame for which it can be see as one. It reads “effects of an impairment lasting or expected to last fewer than six months can be substantially limiting for purposes of proving an actual disability,” although “impairments that last only for a short period of time are typically not covered . . “ unless they are “sufficiently severe.” A woman confined to bed rest or with morning sickness so severe that she is unable to go about her daily practices would most likely fall under the protection of the ADA now.

2015 could mean a large change in how the PDA is interpreted. If you’d like to talk to an employment law expert to see how this case and others could affect your rights, contact us today at Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A. for your free consultation at 813-579-2483.

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