Supreme Court delivers landmark ruling in pregnancy discrimination case

March 26, 2015- Richmond, Va.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the United States resurrected a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought by a former United States Parcel Service (“UPS”) employee under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”).

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Young v. United States Parcel Service, Inc. vacated the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., which found that the PDA did not give pregnant women “a ‘most favored nation’ status.”

The Plaintiff, Peggy Young, a former driver for UPS, brought the suit after her supervisors refused to accommodate her doctor’s instructions that she not lift anything heavier than 20 pounds for the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. At the time, Young was informed that UPS only provided accommodations to those who had been injured on the job, those who lost their Department of Transportation certification and those who have a disability as defined by the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”).

According to Steve Vladeck, an American University law professor and CNN analyst, while the “…ruling is narrow, it’s an important victory for pregnant employees like Young.”

As a result, Young will now have the opportunity to prove her case in the lower courts. The ruling also adds force to the PDA, which lower courts previously found to only marginally bolster other laws prohibiting sex discrimination.

The PDA is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Accordingly, pregnancy or related conditions must be treated the same as other applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recently issued guidance clarifying that the PDA does require employers to provide accommodations to pregnant workers if those accommodations also would be provided to other workers who are similarly limited in their work abilities by something other than pregnancy.

The PDA also forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any other aspect of employment, including pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, hiring/firing, and any other term or condition of employment.

As it is a federal law, Title VII only provides protections for pregnant employees who work for employers with 15 or more employees. However, Virginia law provides its own protections for employees who work for employers with fewer than 15 employees.

Under the Virginia Human Rights Act, pregnancy is considered a protected class or condition, along with race, color, religion, and national origin. Therefore, employers with more than five but fewer than 15 employees may not fire an employee on the basis of pregnancy or because of a childbirth-related condition, including lactation.

If you or a loved one has questions about the rights of pregnant employees, call the attorneys at ReidGoodwin today to schedule your free legal consultation.