Legal Brief: Court Rules Pregnant Worker Not Entitled to Accommodations for Lifting

Peggy Young, a delivery truck driver for UPS Inc., was given lifting restrictions because of her pregnancy. UPS’ policy did not permit Young to continue working with the lifting restriction, and she was ineligible for light-duty assignment because UPS only offered light-duty work for workers with on-the-job injuries, those accommodated under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and those who had lost U.S. Transportation Department certification. After Young’s FMLA leave expired, she went on an unpaid extended leave of absence, and she returned to work after giving birth.

Young sued UPS for discrimination. The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, affirmed by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, granted summary judgment to UPS. Young could not establish the existence of a disability, and she offered no evidence, other than the fact of her pregnancy, that UPS regarded her as disabled; it rejected the argument that UPS’ policy is direct evidence of discrimination, because it treats pregnancy workers and nonpregnant workers alike; and held that Young was unable to establish a prima facie (“at first look”) case for pregnancy discrimination since she could not establish that similarly situated employees received more favorable treatment than she did. Young v. UPS, 2013 U.S. App. Lexis 530 (Jan. 9, 2013).

In California, however, an employee who was fired after being on bed rest because of her pregnancy once her four months of leave under the Pregnancy Disability Leave Law was up, sued claiming that the company owed her reasonable accommodation under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act in addition to the four month of leave under the California State pregnancy disability law. The California appellate court agreed, stating that the law doesn’t replace the protections available for pregnant workers under state law, and that the employer owed her more leave once her four months of pregnancy disability leave were up. Sanchez v. Swissport, No. B237761, California Court of Appeals, Second District (Feb. 21, 2013).

IMPACT: While pregnancy is not normally treated as a disability under the federal ADA, employers should consult state laws that require such accommodations for pregnant employees.

James E. Hall, Mark T. Kobata and Marty Denis are partners in the law firm of Barlow, Kobata and Denis, which has offices in Los Angeles and Chicago. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.