Labor and Employment Law—Disparate Treatment and Disparate Impact—Assessing A Pregnant Employee’s Ability To Bring Suit Under The Second Clause Of The Pregnancy Discrimination Act

by Alex Thomason

Young v. UPS, 135 S. Ct. 1338 (2015).

In 1999, United Parcel Service, Inc. (Defendant) hired Penny Young (Plaintiff), and in 2002, she began working as a part-time delivery driver. Thereafter, Plaintiff entered into a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with Defendant whereby Defendant had an obligation to accommodate Plaintiff with light-duty work if Plaintiff: (1) suffered an on-the-job injury; (2) suffered a disability covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); or (3) lost her Department of Transportation (DOT) certification.

In July 2006, Plaintiff became pregnant after several failed attempts. Following an extended medical leave, Plaintiff submitted a note to Defendant indicating a recommendation that Plaintiff not lift more than twenty pounds. However, Plaintiff’s job description as a delivery driver included a seventy-pound lifting requirement.

After submitting the recommendation, Plaintiff called Defendant’s District Occupational Health Manager (Manager) to determine “what [she] had to do” to return to work. Manager explained to Plaintiff that the policy stated in the CBA did not provide light-duty work for pregnant employees. Plaintiff then sought accommodation from Myron Williams (Williams), one of Defendant’s higher-ranking employees. However, Williams could not accommodate Plaintiff with light-duty work. Thus, unable to receive accommodation, Plaintiff stayed home without pay throughout her pregnancy.

In October 2008, Plaintiff filed an employment discrimination action, alleging pregnancy-based sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) in the Maryland District Court (District Court). Plaintiff sought to prove intentional discrimination with direct and circumstantial evidence. To prove intentional discrimination by way of circumstantial evidence, Plaintiff had to establish that Defendant treated her differently than similarly situated, non-pregnant, employees. Defendant moved for summary judgment, contending that Plaintiff could not prove that it treated Plaintiff differently from other employees similar in their inability to work, thereby defeating Plaintiff’s ability to establish a prima facie pregnancy discrimination claim.

The District Court granted Defendant’s summary judgment motion, finding that Plaintiff’s pregnancy was not similar to any of the conditions that received accommodation under Defendant’s light-duty policy outlined in the CBA, and that, therefore, Plaintiff received the same treatment as non-pregnant employees with non-occupational injuries. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (Appellate Court) affirmed the District Court’s summary judgment order. On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court, held, vacated, and remanded the case.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) “requires courts to consider the extent to which an employer’s policy treats pregnant workers less favorably than it treats non-pregnant workers similar in their ability or inability to work.” A pregnant employee may rely on circumstantial evidence to establish a prima facie pregnancy discrimination claim under a disparate-treatment theory by showing “that she belongs to the protected class, that she sought accommodation, that the employer did not accommodate her, and that the employer did accommodate others ‘similar in their ability or inability to work.’” If the employer offers a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its alleged discriminatory conduct, the aggrieved employee may show that the employer’s reason for its conduct is pretextual. A pregnant employee may defeat summary judgment on the issue of pretext “by providing sufficient evidence that the employer’s policies impose a significant burden on pregnant workers, and that the employer’s ‘legitimate, nondiscriminatory’ reasons are not sufficiently strong to justify the burden” imposed on the pregnant employee, thereby giving rise to an inference of intentional discrimination. Young v. UPS, 135 S. Ct. 1338 (2015).

 

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