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Pregnancy Discrimination: New Supreme Court Ruling Lays Out to Test to Determine Bias

April 24, 2015 Pregnancy Discrimination

Good news for working women

A few months ago, we posted a blog about a pregnancy discrimination case that was set to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ladies and gentlemen: The verdict is in (and it contains some good news for working women).

A framework for discrimination

The case was Young v. United Parcel Service.

The issue under consideration was whether the employer discriminated against a pregnant woman by failing to allow her to do light-duty work during her pregnancy, even though that option was available to other employees in certain circumstances.

The Supreme Court declined to offer a ruling on this question. Rather, it sent the case back to a lower court for reconsideration.

However, it laid out a specific framework for evaluating discrimination under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). It also noted that similar questions in the future may be moot, as pregnancy may be covered as a temporary disability under expansions to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

As for this particular case, the lower court has been ordered to apply the following framework to determine potential bias:

The woman must show that she’s in a “protected class.” For the purposes of the PDA, that generally means any person who is capable of becoming pregnant or being affected by pregnancy-related conditions.

She must show that pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition made it impossible for her to perform her regular job duties, that she asked for a job accommodation, and that she was refused.

She must show that other employees who were temporarily unable to do their jobs were offered accommodations.

The employer can then set out to show that its policy was a neutral one, with no intent for bias against pregnant workers.

The employee then has an opportunity to prove that the employer’s policy put an unfair burden on pregnant workers, even if the bias was unintentional.

What this means for working women

I believe this ruling is good news for working women.

While the court didn’t specifically decide this case, it left the door open for sensible job protection for women and their unborn children, based on the guidelines laid out in the expanded ADA.

That means women affected by pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions may be eligible for accommodations to ensure their own health and safety at work, as well as the health and safety of their unborn children.

What employers don’t know

Of course, since the ADA expansions are still relatively new, many employers may not be up to speed on their obligations under the law. That’s why it’s important for pregnant women to consult an experienced attorney if they meet resistance over job accommodations or are the victim of other unfair actions.

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