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United States Supreme Court Expands Employer Responsibility for Accommodating Pregnancy

On March 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Young v.

On March 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Young v. UPS, which employer and employee groups alike hoped would clarify whether employers must provide light duty and other workplace accommodations to pregnant employees in the same manner they provide accommodations to employees who are injured on the job.  While the majority opinion did not answer this question directly, the Supreme Court provided a somewhat new framework for pregnant employees challenging workplace accommodation policies and practices under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”), as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”).

If an employer’s policies impose a “significant burden” on pregnant workers, and the employer’s articulated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons do not justify that burden but instead give rise to an inference of discrimination, then a plaintiff likely will be able to reach a jury trial on her pregnancy claim.  As the Court noted, a “significant burden” can be shown by evidence that an employer “accommodates a large percentage of non-pregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers.”  The Court also strongly hinted that cost and inconvenience alone would be insufficient reasons to avoid a jury trial.

The Court’s decision creates the possibility that workplace policies that provide accommodations to some workers but exclude pregnant employees may be a violation of the PDA.  If employers have such accommodation policies, they should consider taking steps to reconsider them, particularly if the only justification for excluding pregnant workers from those policies is the consideration of cost or convenience.  At the very least, employers who have such a policy should be prepared to articulate a strong, legitimate rationale for maintaining that policy.

Employers should take the time to carefully review their non-disability discrimination and reasonable accommodation policy in light of the Young opinion.  Employers should also train their supervisory employees to ensure they understand the accommodation process.  Please feel free to contact Connell Foley’s employment law attorneys for guidance on analyzing your company’s policies and procedures, and for any employee training needs.

  • Partner

    Michael Shadiack is the Chair of Connell Foley’s Labor and Employment Practice Group. Representing a broad spectrum of employers and management personnel in the private and public sectors, he provides litigation defense and ...

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