In our October blog, we alerted employers to updated guidelines issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regarding pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Recently, however, the Supreme Court in Young v. United Parcel Servicedeclined to follow those guidelines and created a new framework through which pregnancy discrimination claims are analyzed. See Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/12-1226_k5fl.pdf
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), passed in 1978, makes it illegal for certain employers to discriminate against women based on pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. One provision from the PDA is the topic of the EEOC guidelines and the decision in Young—the PDA states that employers must treat women affected by pregnancy the same for all employment related purposes as non-pregnant employees who are similarly limited in their ability to work. This ambiguous requirement has made it unclear to employers whether pregnant employees must be afforded all accommodations received by non-pregnant employees. The Supreme Court’s answer is “no.”
While the EEOC’s guidelines were based on a broad interpretation of the PDA where pregnant women are entitled to the same accommodations that any other worker under a disability or a temporary disability receives, the Court declined to adopt such an expansive reading. Instead, an employee bringing a pregnancy discrimination claim must show that:
- She is a member of the protected group (those who can become pregnant),
- She asked to be accommodated in the workplace when she could not carry out her normal duties,
- The employer refused to accommodate her, and
- The employer actually provided accommodations for others who were unable to do their work temporarily.
Once the employee has shown these four things, the employer has the opportunity to show that its workplace policy had a neutral business rationale and therefore was not biased against pregnant workers. Finally, the pregnant worker may attempt to show that the neutral policy actually places a significant burden on female employees without sufficient justification.
Essentially, the employee must first show intentional discrimination and then show that the negative impact of the policy outweighs any reason the employer may have had for enacting it.
In addition to the PDA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also governs pregnancy discrimination issues; the definition of a disability under the ADA includes any physical impairment that substantially limit an individual’s ability to lift, stand, or bend.
INSIGHTS FOR EMPLOYERS
In Idaho, these federal laws apply to all public employers, all state contractors, and all other employers with five or more employees. The EEOC has not yet updated its pregnancy discrimination guidelines in the wake of the Young decision, but the decision has made it clear that some of those recommendations are no longer necessary. For example the EEOC’s July 2014 guidelines state that “light duty afforded to others must be afforded to pregnant workers,” which is no longer the case.
It is important to understand that the law does not require pregnant and non-pregnant persons to be treated the same; there are still many reasons that a non-pregnant person may be entitled to accommodations that a pregnant person would not be entitled to. For example, accommodations may be necessary for those employees with particularly hazardous jobs, those whose workplace presence is particularly needed, those who have worked with the company for many years, those who are over the age of 55, etc., and those same accommodations are not necessarily required for pregnant persons.
The evolution of this issue over the past year underscores the importance of evaluating and updating any policies and procedures related to pregnancy and disability. While the EEOC’s guidelines are now outdated, adopting some of those recommendations will help ensure compliance with the PDA and prevent pregnancy discrimination lawsuits.
Please contact a Gjording Fouser lawyer at 208.336.9777 if you would like any additional information about this topic or any other employment issues facing your company.