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Managing Pregnant Employees Requires Delicate Balance


April 16, 2013

In Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., -- F.3d --, 2013 WL 93132 (4th Cir. Jan. 9, 2013), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that employers do not need to provide preferential treatment to pregnant employees simply because the employee is pregnant.  More specifically, the Fourth Circuit held that: (1) the employer did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") because it did not "regard" her as disabled; (2) the employer's policy of not providing light duty work to pregnant employees while providing temporary, light duty work to employees injured-on-the job did not violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA"); and (3) the employer's denial of an accommodation to pregnant employees did not give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination under the PDA.

Background

In Young, the plaintiff worked part-time as a delivery truck driver for United Parcel Service, Inc. ("UPS"). In 2006, the plaintiff took a leave of absence from UPS to undergo fertility treatments.  After the plaintiff became pregnant, and while she was still on a leave of absence, she submitted two notes from two different medical providers stating that she should not lift more than 20 pounds. The plaintiff's supervisor informed her that she would not be permitted to continue working as long as she had a 20 pound lifting restriction because it was an essential function of the job for drivers to lift packages weighing up to 70 pounds. Moreover, pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"), UPS only provided temporary, alternate work to employees unable to perform their normal work assignments due to on-the-job injuries. Pregnant employees, however, were ineligible for the temporary, light duty work to accommodate any limitations arising solely from the pregnancy. The plaintiff remained on leave, and returned to work after she gave birth. The plaintiff brought an action against UPS for discrimination on the basis of her pregnancy and for discrimination under the ADA because UPS "regarded" her as disabled.

Decision

With respect to the plaintiff's disability claim, the court rejected the plaintiff's contention that UPS regarded her as disabled.  Instead, it held that the record was clear that UPS viewed the plaintiff as having a 20 pound lifting restriction for a short duration related solely to the pregnancy itself. The court also rejected the plaintiff's claims that UPS' policy of providing temporary light duty positions only to employees injured-on-the-job discriminated against pregnant employees.  Instead, the court held that the PDA requires employers to treat pregnant employees and non-pregnant employees alike. Here, UPS applied its policy of providing temporary light duty positions equally to all employees who had restrictions arising from off-the-job injuries or illnesses. Finally, the court found that UPS' denial of a light duty accommodation to pregnant employees did not amount to discriminatory animus directed to pregnant employees.

Conclusion

The Young case offers a lesson on the delicate balance employers must strike when managing pregnant employees. Notably, employers must treat all employees suffering from off-the-job injuries or illnesses equally. It should further be noted that, while the PDA does not require employers to provide preferential treatment to pregnant employees based solely on the pregnancy itself, depending on the circumstances, the ADA may require that an accommodation be made.  For instance, although pregnancy itself is not a "disability" under the ADA, certain impairments resulting from pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes, may be considered a disability if they substantially limit a major life activity. Employers, therefore, should review their policies concerning light duty positions to ensure they comply with both the PDA and the ADA.