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EEOC Issues New Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination

Published:  July 18, 2014

This week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidance on pregnancy discrimination, which is the EEOC’s first update on its position regarding this issue since 1983. This guidance has sparked criticism due to some of its controversial provisions. For example, the guidance prohibits employers from denying light duty work as an accommodation for pregnant workers. This very issue is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Prior to the release of the EEOC guidance, the Supreme Court agreed to review Young v. United Parcel Services, a case which focuses on reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. Peggy Young, a part-time UPS driver, commenced this lawsuit after her employer refused to assign her to light duty work in accordance with its policy. Per her medical provider, Young was restricted from lifting more than twenty pounds during her pregnancy. She claimed that UPS’s refusal to assign her light duty work was a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which prohibits discrimination against employees on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

The UPS policy at the center of this legal battle is governed by a collective bargaining agreement, which reserves light duty work for employees with work-related injuries or those with disabilities cognizable under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Young was denied light duty work in accordance with the policy because she did not qualify for either category since the limitation caused by her pregnancy was neither work-related nor a disability cognizable under the ADA. Since the essential functions of her job as a part-time driver included the ability to lift packages weighing up to seventy pounds, Young was forced to go on medical leave and return after her baby was born.

The main issue before the Court is whether an employer who provides light duty work as an accommodation to non-pregnant workers must provide the same accommodation to pregnant workers.

The EEOC’s position on this issue appears to side with Young’s argument in this case; essentially, pregnant workers should not be denied light duty work based on the source of their limitation (i.e. pregnancy). Critics have noted that the EEOC’s position is, in certain aspects, contradictory to existing case law and not supported by the language of the PDA or the ADA. Others have expressed concerns about the EEOC’s bold attempt to release controversial guidance on a topic which is currently pending at the Supreme Court. It will be interesting to see whether the Supreme Court will follow the EEOC’s direction.

In a nutshell, employers should be mindful of this new guidance when handling requests by pregnant workers for reasonable accommodations. In addition, employers would be wise to consult with employment counsel to ensure that their policies are in compliance with the new EEOC guidance.

If you have any questions regarding the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Americans with Disability Act, or reasonable accommodations, please contact any of the attorneys at Royal LLP at (413) 586-2288.

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