Supreme Court: Denying Accommodation to Pregnant Worker Could Be Title VII Violation

Employers that accommodate workers with temporary disabilities may also have to do so for pregnant employees or risk being found liable under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act for not doing so, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today.

The case in which the justices ruled was brought by Peggy Young, a former delivery driver for United Parcel Service. She alleged that by refusing her a light-duty accommodation during her pregnancy UPS was in effect giving her the choice of unpaid leave or losing her job during her pregnancy.

The company defended its actions arguing that its policy did not violate the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act because it made accommodations and light-duty assignments available to employees injured on the job, while treating pregnant employees no worse than workers injured off the job who received no accommodations.

In today’s 6-3 ruling, the justices held that if a pregnant employee can show that the employer did not accommodate her but employer did accommodate others “similar in their ability or inability to work,” the burden will shift to the employer to  show it had  “legitimate, nondiscriminatory” reasons for denying her accommodation.  But that reason can’t simply be that it would have been costly or inconvenient to accommodate the woman.

If the woman can then show that the employer’s policy places a “significant burden” on pregnant employees–for example, it accommodate large percentage of nonpregnant employees but only a small percentage of pregnant employees, that could toss the question back to the jury to decide whether the employer’s conduct was discriminatory.

The court’s ruling in Young v. UPS is available here.

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