A recent case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, Young v.
UPS (issued March 25, 2015), caught the attention of many
women and employers as well. In Young, the Court
interpreted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), in particular
the second clause of that Act, which reads that employers must
treat "women affected by pregnancy...the same for all
employment-related purposes...as other persons not so affected but
similar in their ability or inability to work."
Young, a part-time driver for UPS, had suffered several
miscarriages prior to the pregnancy at issue in this case. She was
told by her doctor that she could lift only 20 pounds during the
first 20 weeks of her pregnancy, and then only 10 pounds until the
pregnancy was over. UPS advised Young that she was not to return to
work at UPS until she could lift the required 70 pounds that her
particular job required. Young subsequently exhausted all of her
Family and Medical Leave Act time, took an unpaid leave of absence
and eventually exhausted all of her medical benefits. After her
child was born, she returned to work and filed a lawsuit against
UPS. Young sued UPS under the theory that the PDA was violated when
UPS refused to allow Young to be given limited physical activities,
as was the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act was amended in 1978 to include the PDA. She
maintained that she was entitled to the same accommodation as other
employees who had workplace restrictions due to injury or
Young lost at both the District Court level and the Court of
Appeals (4th Cir.), as the lower courts ruled that Young's
situation was not comparable to the situations of workers in those
protected groups and granted summary judgment to UPS. The Supreme
Court granted cert. and vacated and remanded the case, remarking
that Young had raised triable issues of fact that made the granting
on summary judgment for UPS in this case inappropriate.
While the Young decision was limited to the issue of
the UPS policy, it is not difficult to see how pregnant employees
might use this holding in other workplace situations. What the
Young decision did is provide a vehicle for pregnant
employees to challenge workplace accommodation policies under the
PDA, which are afforded to other workers but not to pregnant ones.
Employers will need to take a careful look at their policies to
make sure they are in compliance and that pregnant employees are
not negatively impacted by discriminatory policies.
Interestingly, two weeks after the Young decision was
issued, a proposed class of California workers filed nearly
identical accusations against Raley's, a grocery store chain.
Raley's operates 115 grocery stores in California.
Plaintiffs-employees allege that Raley's forced them out of
their jobs because they were pregnant. While Raley's (like UPS)
gave lighter work to employees who were injured on the job, it
refused to extend this accommodation to pregnant workers, who were
forced by their managers to go on unpaid leave or lose their jobs.
While the Young ruling may help clarify the issue in the
Raley's case, California law appears to offer sufficient
protection for the plaintiffs. Hence, even without the recent
Young decision, plaintiffs appear to have a solid case
against the grocery chain.
What is interesting about the Young case is that it is
not yet over, and may not be over for some time. Thus, while the
decision appears to be a step in the right direction for pregnant
women in the workplace, Young has yet to have her "day in
court," and there is no telling when that day will come. If
the employer in this case had in place a workplace mediation
program, which included pregnancy-related issues, Young and UPS may
have been spared a lot of time and money, not to mention the bad
publicity cases like this generate for the employer. The benefit of
these types of workplace mediation programs is that they afford the
worker another option, which in many cases will lead to a swift and
beneficial result that both sides can live with.
Being pregnant should not subject a woman to punitive policies,
and the Young decision recognizes that fact. Nevertheless,
the United States still has a long way to go compared to the rest
of the industrialized world when it comes to our attitudes about
pregnancy and pregnancy-related issues. Mediation can be one of the
tools that helps both employees and employers explore solutions
that are beneficial to all parties.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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It is commonly understood that under the FMLA, an eligible employee of a covered employer is entitled to 12 workweeks of leave during a 12-month period for the birth of a child, the placement of a child for adoption or foster care, . . .
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