Did the United States Supreme Court recently decide that pregnant employees must receive the same light duty accommodations as disabled employees (Young v. UPS)?

No, the Supreme Court did not require, as a categorical matter, that every pregnant employee be treated the same as every disabled employee with respect to light duty. Distinctions could be made based on the type of disability and even the type of employee suffering the injury. (For example, those working in extrahazardous positions.) However, the Supreme Court did find that in many instances differences between how an employer responds to a pregnant employee’s light duty request and a disabled employee’s light duty request may establish a claim of pregnancy discrimination.

In that case, the Plaintiff, Peggy Young, provided testimony that the only disabling condition that UPS would not accommodate was pregnancy, and also that a large percentage of non-pregnant employees with work limitation were accommodated, while pregnant employees were not accommodated. Based on this evidence, the Supreme Court overruled the dismissal of her case and allowed it to proceed, while not deciding whether UPS’s justification for limiting light duty positions to certain conditions was unfounded.

At the time of Young’s request for light duty, UPS required that drivers be able to lift packages of at least 70 pounds unassisted, and assist in lifting packages of up to 150 pounds. Because of Young’s pregnancy, her doctor certified that she could not lift over 20 pounds prior to giving birth to her child. When Young requested a light duty position, UPS followed its collective bargaining agreement with the employees’ union, which only provided for light duty positions for: (1) employees with on the job injuries; (2) employees who lost their Department of Transportation (DOT) certifications to drive UPS vehicles; and (3) employees who suffered from a disability that qualified under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Young was thus denied light duty and had to take leave without pay, losing her health insurance during her absence.

The trial court and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit both reasoned that UPS’s decision and policy was not discriminatory based on pregnancy. Rather, the policy was “pregnancy-neutral” in that it did not specifically prohibit light duty positions for pregnant employees; it simply gave very narrow exceptions to UPS’s rule against providing light duty. The Supreme Court rejected this, particularly noting some instances in which employees with off-the-job injuries were given light duty positions.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court held that employers are not now required to offer light duty positions to pregnant employees if they offer such positions to any other employee. This sort of “bootstrapping” concern would come from a misreading of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which the Court held did not give pregnant employees a “most-favored-nation” status.

The above is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.

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