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Potential Conflict in Accommodating Pregnant Employees

By: Shelly R. Pagac, Jennifer R. Russell
July 16, 2014

            On July 1, 2014, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., a case brought by a former UPS delivery driver who claims UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) contained in Title VII, when it improperly denied her request for light duty work because of a recommended lifting restriction during her pregnancy.  Young was not given the same accommodation as non-pregnant employees with similar limitations, in that UPS offered light duty only to employees with on-the-job injuries, employees with permanent impairments entitled to accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and employees who lost Department of Transportation certification to drive commercial vehicles.  Pregnant employees (women) were deemed ineligible for light duty work for any limitations arising solely as a result of their pregnancy.   
           
            On July 14, 2014, only 13 days after the Court agreed to hear Young’s appeal, the EEOC issued its Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues.  The EEOC sets forth a comprehensive list of questions and answers regarding pregnancy and provides a list of recommended best practices in terms of hiring and other employment decisions.  Most notably, the guidance addresses employers’ duties under the PDA and ADA and provides that employers are to provide reasonable accommodations, and specifically light duty, to pregnant employees with work restrictions, even if the employee does not qualify as an individual with a disability under the ADA. 
 
            The guidance discusses matters that relate directly to the facts and issues to be examined and decided by the Supreme Court in Young v. UPS.  However, the guidance does not have the force of law and the Supreme Court’s decision in Young could directly contradict the EEOC guidance.  If this occurs, the EEOC will face vociferous criticism.  This potential for conflict creates some uncertainty for employers regarding their obligations.  In the interim, however, employers should use caution and consider the EEOC’s guidance in making decisions with respect to employees who are covered by the PDA and ADA.  Employers should also consider any state or local laws that offer protection from pregnancy discrimination, such as those recently passed in Maryland, New Jersey, West Virginia and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.