• U.S. Supreme Court Finds that a Pregnant Employee Who Was Denied a Lifting Restriction Accommodation Survives Summary Judgment When the Employer Offers Similar Restrictions to Non-Pregnant Employees Who Have On-The-Job Injuries or Other Disabilities
  • July 13, 2015 | Author: Lee C. Durivage
  • Law Firm: Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C. - Philadelphia Office
  • Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 2015 U.S. LEXIS 2121 (March 25, 2015)

    The U.S. Supreme Court determined that an employee created a genuine issue of fact (requiring denial of summary judgment) when that pregnant employee presented evidence that the employer provided more favorable treatment to other employees whose requests for lifting restriction accommodations could not be distinguished from her request for a lifting restriction accommodation.

    Ms. Young was a part-time driver and had a lifting restriction of no more than 20 pounds after she became pregnant. The drivers, however, are required to lift more than 70 pounds, and she was advised that she could not work when she had the lifting restriction. Young, however, argued that the company discriminated against her (and other pregnant employees) when it failed to accommodate her pregnancy-related restriction since the company accommodated several individuals who had restrictions that were similar to hers. In particular, the company had policies that created light-duty positions for on-the-job injuries, ADA accommodations or individuals who lost their Department of Transportation certifications. The company, however, argued that it treated the plaintiff exactly as it did all of its non-pregnant employees who did not fall within the three exceptions for these light-duty positions. The company further argued that the plaintiff’s request would require that pregnant employees be treated “more favorably” than the rest of the workforce.

    On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court was tasked to determine whether a policy, which distinguishes between pregnant and non-pregnant employees in light of characteristics not related to pregnancy, constitutes a violation of the law. The Court, however, did not reach a decision on this question—rejecting both parties’ interpretation of the law. Rather, the Court determined that a factual issue existed and “that the plaintiff may reach a jury...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, but rather—when considered along with the burden imposed—give rise to an inference of intentional discrimination.”

    This decision demonstrates the increased need for employers to evaluate their policies and determine whether these policies have an effect of treating employees differently in their ability to work. If, for instance, an employer has a policy that permits certain employees to work light-duty (but not others who have similar impairments), courts and plaintiffs’ attorneys will be looking at those employers for suspected violations of the employment discrimination statutes. As a result, employers must evaluate whether they can accommodate their employees’ medical restrictions on a case-by-case basis. While this will take more time and effort in the short term, it will certainly assist to avoid costly litigation in the long term.