Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Supreme Court's Opinion in UPS v. Young

In an update to a previous post, the highly anticipated United States Supreme Court decision in UPS v. Young was announced last week. In a 6-3 decision, the Court vacated rulings of the district court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, both having issued summary judgment in favor of UPS. The Court remanded the decision to determine whether the policies of UPS were legitimate and nondiscriminatory. The Court stated the Fourth Circuit had not yet considered the combined effects of UPS' other accommodation policies or the strength of UPS' justifications for the policies.

In its decision, the Supreme Court rejected the interpretations of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act argued by both parties. Notably, the Court rejected Young’s "most favored nation" status argument, that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act afforded the best accommodations previously afforded to other, non-pregnant employees. Similarly, the Court rejected UPS' argument that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act defines sex discrimination to include pregnancy discrimination.

Instead, the Court held that a claim of pregnancy discrimination should be analyzed under the McDonnell-Douglas framework. According to the Court, a pregnant employee may make out a prima facie case by showing she belongs to a protected class, sought an accommodation from her employer, the employer rejected her request for an accommodation, and the employer accommodated other employees "similar in their ability or inability to work." The employer then has an opportunity to show it did not intend to discriminate against pregnant workers, and instead has legitimate, non-discriminating reasons for denying the employee’s accommodation request. The employee then must show that, even though it was not intended to be biased, the employer's policies put a significant burden on pregnant workers and the employer’s proffered reasons were not strong enough to justify the burden.

In issuing its opinion, the Court did not adopt the EEOC’s approach from its 2014 published guidance, in part questioning the basis under which the EEOC developed its guidance. The Court also noted that amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act expanding the definition of "disability" and the EEOC's interpretation of these amendments¾requiring employers to accommodate employees whose temporary lifting restrictions originate off the job¾may limit future significance of its decision.

In the meantime, employers should review their accommodation policies in light of the Court's decision. Additionally, employers faced with a pregnancy accommodation request should carefully consider the Court’s decision and assess how a pregnant employee’s accommodation request is similar to those accommodation requests of other non-pregnant employees.

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