Federal guidance updated to reflect increased protections for pregnant employees

pregnant woman sitting at desk holding stomach and writing in journal

Federal authorities have updated guidance to reflect the increased pregnancy protections afforded in the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion Young v. UPS.

In Young, the court set a new standard for claims brought under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) for when a plaintiff has been denied an accommodation for a pregnancy-related work restriction given to others who are not pregnant but are similar in their ability/inability to work.

Under the new standard, if an employer points to a neutral policy as its reason for the different treatment, the plaintiff can show its just pretext for discrimination by proving that the policy imposes a “significant burden” on pregnant workers and that the reasons for the policy are not “sufficiently strong to justify the burden.”

Because of this decision, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues.

Now, the guidance states that “[e]mployer policies that do not facially discriminate on the basis of pregnancy may nonetheless violate… the PDA where they impose significant burdens on pregnant employees that cannot be supported by a sufficiently strong justification.”

The EEOC gives an example, saying that if an employer provides light-duty work to a large percentage of non-pregnant employees but does not provide light-duty work to pregnant workers, this may “establish that the policy or practice significantly burdens pregnant employees.”

There’s an inference of discrimination in cases like this unless the employer’s reasons for the policy justify the burden.

The guidance goes on to explain that a plaintiff can establish a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that (1) she is pregnant, (2) that she requested an accommodation, (3) that her request was denied, and (4) that her employer accommodated others who were “similar in their ability or inability to work.”

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