The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a decision involving the scope of pregnancy discrimination protections under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The case—Young v. United Parcel Service—involved a part-time driver employed by UPS who became pregnant and was no longer permitted by her doctor to lift more than 20 pounds. UPS maintained that the employee had to be able to lift up to 70 pounds to maintain active employment. She was placed on a leave of absence, and returned to work two months after the child was born.
How Supreme Court found
The Court addressed whether pregnancy discrimination included a duty to accommodate individuals. The case did not involve a duty to accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the issue of whether employers were obligated to accommodate pregnant employees in order to avoid pregnancy discrimination liability.
The Court found that an individual can demonstrate pregnancy discrimination by showing that:
• She sought accommodation for her pregnant condition.
• The employer did not accommodate her.
• The employer did accommodate others with similar limitations.
When evaluating whether the employer accommodated others, the Court directed its attention to whether the employer accommodated others as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Court actually went beyond employer obligations suggested by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In light of this new decision, banks and other employers will need to continue to carefully manage compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and to conduct an effective interactive process when the need for accommodation becomes apparent to the employee or the organization.
Additionally, when it comes to pregnant employees who may or may not meet the definition of disabled under the ADA, banks also now need to consider specific accommodation requests, as if the employee was disabled.
In other words, the Supreme Court compares requests for pregnancy accommodation to requests for ADA accommodation.
What must you do?
We do not believe that the Court’s decision requires specific modifications to employee handbooks, equal employment opportunity policies, or harassment policies.
Instead, as banks manage pregnant employees, they now need to think in terms of accommodations if requested by the employee that are comparable to what the bank has done or would do under the ADA.