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What to Expect When Your Employee Is Expecting: The Supreme Court Sheds Light on When Employers Must Accommodate Pregnant Employees

The U.S. Supreme Court recently held that an employee can establish a prima facie case of pregnancy discrimination if the employee can establish that she belongs to a protected class (i.e., is or was pregnant), she sought an accommodation, and the employer did not accommodate her but the employer accommodated others “similar in their ability or inability to work.”

In Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS), a pregnant employee’s doctor advised her not to lift more than 20 lbs. The employee’s job as a UPS delivery person required her to lift up to 70 lbs., and UPS refused to accommodate her request for temporary light duty work. The employee sued under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The Supreme Court found that an employee can raise a viable claim if her employer did not accommodate her but accommodated others similar in their ability or inability to work. If the employee makes such a showing, the employer has an opportunity to justify its decision not to accommodate the employee. The Supreme Court warned, however, that employer expense and inconvenience normally are not sufficient justifications to refuse to accommodate pregnant workers. Finally, the Supreme Court explained that an employee may be able to proceed to trial on a PDA claim if she can show that the employer’s policies impose a significant burden on pregnant workers without a strong enough business justification. In establishing that there is a significant burden on pregnant workers, an employee can present evidence that an employer accommodates a large percentage of non-pregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers.

This case provides some clarity to employers in determining when accommodations are necessary for pregnant employees under the PDA.

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