Young v. UPS in Context

You have probably heard or read news stories and varying opinions about Young v. UPS,  a case before the United States Supreme Court that may affect how employers are required to treat pregnant employees.  But what is the case really about?

Peggy Young drove a UPS truck for four years. She then became pregnant. Young’s doctor wrote a note recommending that she not lift more than 20 pounds. As a UPS driver, young was required to be able to lift packages heavier than 20 pounds.  In other words, her pregnancy prevented Young from doing her job at UPS without some type of accommodation.

UPS’s policies permitted accommodations to employees who were, for instance, injured on the job or suffered from a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  But Young’s pregnancy did not qualify her under any of these categories.  Because she was unable to do her job without accommodation, Young was placed on an unpaid leave of absence during her pregnancy.  She then sued UPS under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”).  The question before the Supreme Court is what, exactly, that law requires of employers.

Passed in 1978, the PDA requires employers to treat pregnant women the same as non-pregnant employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.”  Stated another way, the Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.

UPS argues (and the lower courts who have heard the case agreed) that it did not violate the PDA because it treated Young the same as it treated other non-pregnant employees who had a similar “inability to work” in the form of work restrictions that didn’t otherwise qualify for accommodations under its policy.  Because UPS did not provide accommodations to non-pregnant employees who did not qualify for them under its policy, UPS argues it did precisely what the PDA requires by treating Young the same as non-pregnant employees.

Young argues that UPS’s policy does discriminate against pregnant women because it accommodates the needs of some employees, but not pregnant women.  In other words, according to Young, the PDA requires her to be treated at least as well as other employees who have an “inability to work” in the form of conditions which require accommodation in the workplace; such as those with a disability under the ADA.  Because she was not treated as well as others with conditions that prevented them from doing their jobs without accommodation, Young claims the PDA was violated.

The outcome of the case will turn on how the Supreme Court justices interpret the PDA.  Read narrowly, as it has been by most courts in the past, UPS did not violate the PDA.  Read expansively, the Supreme Court may determine UPS violated the PDA by not treating Young at least as well as other employees who received accommodations under UPS’s policies.  The case will prove not only an important decision for employers deciding how to treat pregnant employees, but may also inform how Courts will treat “non-discrimination” laws in the future.

The St. Louis employment attorneys at McMahon Berger have been representing employers across the country in labor and employment matters, including those relating to wage and hour compliance, for almost sixty years, and are available to discuss these issues and others.  As always, the foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation as every situation must be evaluated on its own facts. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.