On July 1, 2014, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in Young v. UPS, Inc. to decide “whether and in what circumstances, an employer that provides work accommodations to nonpregnant employees with work limitations must provide work accommodations to pregnant employees who are ‘similar in their ability or inability to work.’”
Young was a UPS “air driver” who became pregnant in 2006. An air driver is responsible for delivering letters and packages for immediate delivery. The letters and packages were typically light weight; however, Young’s job description required her to be able to lift up to 70 pounds unassisted and up to 150 pounds with assistance. Young’s doctor gave her a 20 pound lifting restriction during her pregnancy.
UPS disallowed Young from working due to the lifting restriction because (1) light duty was only offered to hose with on-the job injuries, ADA disabilities, or those who had lost DOT certification and (2) UPS policy did not permit Young to continue working as an air driver with a 20 pound limitation despite her claim that she rarely lifted anything heavier than that or could be accommodated otherwise. Young was able to return to work after her pregnancy.
Young brought an action against UPS claiming disability discrimination and pregnancy discrimination. The lower courts granted judgment in favor of UPS on both claims prior to trial. Young appealed the pregnancy discrimination claim to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) requires employers to treat women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions to be treated the same as other persons not so affected “but similar in their ability or inability to work”. Young argued that UPS’ policy in granting accommodations to those injured on-the-job, had ADA disabilities, and lost their DOT certification but not pregnant employees was a violation of the PDA because pregnant employees were not treated equally. In short, Young argues that if an employer accommodates any class of employee, it must likewise accommodate a pregnant employee.
Interestingly, the EEOC published Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues on July 14, 2014. The EEOC Guidance not only agrees with Young’s argument, it appears to base one of its examples on the Young facts:
Example 10: An employer has a policy or practice of providing light duty, subject to availability, for any employee who cannot perform one or more job duties for up to 90 days due to injury, illness, or a condition that would be a disability under the ADA. An employee requests a light duty assignment for a 20-pound lifting restriction related to her pregnancy. the employer denies the light duty request, claiming that pregnancy itself does not constitute an injury, illness, or disability, and that the employee has not provided any evidence that the restriction is the result of a pregnancy-related impairment that constitutes a disability under the ADA. The employer has violated the PDA because the employer’s policy treats pregnant employees differently from other employees similar in their ability or inability work.
It’s easy to determine whose side the EEOC will be on in this fight.
It’s my opinion that Iowa law regarding accommodation for pregnant employees is clearer than the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, but doesn’t necessarily cover the Young circumstances. Iowa Code § 216.6(2) sets out the employer’s obligations for pregnancy and childbirth. Subsection b identifies that pregnancy, miscarriage, childbirth and the recovery from each is a temporary disability and should be treated like any other temporary disability for the purpose ofleave. Because Iowa’s specific provisions regarding pregnancy and related conditions seems to apply only in circumstances necessitating leave, it would not necessarily require an employer to provide a light duty position to a pregnant employee.
The ruling in the Young case will have a great impact on Iowa employers and should be watched carefully.