On March 25, 2015, the Supreme Court handed down Young v. United Parcel Service and set forth a new standard making it easier for a female employee to establish discrimination under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act [42 U.S.C. 200e(k)] (“PDA”). The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which amended Title VII in 1978, explicitly provides that discrimination “because of sex” or “on the basis of sex” includes discrimination on the basis of “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.”
The Young case arose when UPS offered light-duty accommodations to disabled and injured employees but not to pregnant employees. Young alleged this policy violated the PDA.
In Young, the Court did not go as far as to say that employers must accommodate pregnant workers whenever they accommodate non-pregnant workers. What the Court did say is, whenever different accommodations are provided to similarly situated pregnant and non-pregnant workers, the employer must determine whether there is any legitimate reason for the disparate treatment. If no legitimate reason exists, then the employer has discriminated on the basis of pregnancy in violation of the PDA. Even when the employer is able to articulate a neutral business rational for the different accommodations, the Court ruled that the pregnant worker must still be given the opportunity to show that the different accommodations impose a “significant burden” on pregnant workers that cannot be justified by the employer’s neutral rationale.
Going forward, the Young decision means that a pregnant worker will not be required to establish explicit discriminatory intent to prove a PDA violation. Instead, under Young, it is sufficient for the worker to show that different accommodations offered to similarly situated pregnant and non-pregnant workers impose a “significant burden” on pregnant employees.