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Employers Beware—Reserving Light Duty for On-The-Job Injuries May Violate the ‎Pregnancy Discrimination Act

April 16, 2015

Overview

Many employers have policies that reserve light duty work assignments for employees who would otherwise be on time loss because of a work-related injury. On March 25, 2015, the Supreme Court released a ruling under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) that limits an employer's right to reserve light duty work for on-the-job injuries. The name of the case is Young v. United Parcel Service.

Plaintiff Peggy Youngrequested a light duty assignment after she became pregnant and her doctor recommended that she not lift packages heavier than 20 pounds. UPS required employees in Young's position to be able to lift up to 70 pounds. UPS denied Young's request for light duty work, citing an internal policy that reserved light duty for employees who had been injured on the job, had a condition that qualified as a disability under the ADA, or had lost their license to drive a commercial vehicle.

Young sued UPS in federal court, arguing that UPS's policy violated the PDA, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who become pregnant and are unable to perform some or all of their job duties. The specific section of the PDA that was at issue in Young provides that it is a form of pregnancy discrimination for an employer to treat pregnant employees differently from other employees with similar limitations on their ability to perform job duties. The lower courts dismissed Young's claim. But on March 25, the Supreme Court announced a new standard for proving PDA claims and decided to give Young another opportunity to prove her claim against UPS under that new standard.

The Supreme Court's decision in Young requires a PDA plaintiff to show that (1) she sought a modification to her job duties when she became unable to perform all or part of her normal job due to pregnancy, (2) the employer refused to provide the requested modification, and (3) non-pregnant workers with a similar inability to perform their normal jobs were treated more favorably. Once a female employee makes this preliminary showing, the burden shifts to the employer to demonstrate that it did not intentionally discriminate against the employee based on her pregnancy but was instead motivated by a neutral, business-related policy. The female employee then has an opportunity to show that the policy, though neutral, places a significant and unjustified burden on female workers.

Since Peggy Young filed her pregnancy discrimination claim, UPS modified its policy to allow for light duty assignments to pregnant employees. In light of the Supreme Court's decision, employers across the country should revisit their light duty policies to assess whether they are at risk for pregnancy discrimination claims. In particular, employers should be aware that policies reserving light duty assignments for workers with on-the-job injuries will likely not pass muster under the new standard for PDA claims.

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