The Interaction of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act after Young v. UPS
31 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2017 Last revised: 25 Apr 2017
Date Written: 2017
Pregnant women sometimes ask employers for accommodations – such as being able to sit on a stool or avoid heavy lifting – to permit them to work safely and productively. In 2015, in Young v. United Parcel Service, the Supreme Court held that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) requires courts to scrutinize carefully denial of such requests. The facts in Young arose prior to the effective date of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA); accordingly, the Court did not address how the ADAAA, which expanded the range of health conditions that qualify as disabilities, affects claims for accommodations under the PDA. This Article fills that gap, updating analysis from an earlier article I wrote on this subject to incorporate the Court’s holding in Young and to discuss how lower courts are applying Young.
The PDA mandates that pregnant employees be treated “the same” as other employees “similar in their ability or inability to work.” Young established that employees who receive accommodations pursuant to the ADA or workers’ compensation laws may be used as comparators in PDA analysis, rejecting lower court decisions to the contrary. The Court stated that evidence that an employer routinely accommodates other health conditions but refuses to provide support for pregnancy is strong circumstantial evidence of discriminatory bias.
The ADAAA magnifies the importance of this holding; it also largely resolves the Young Court’s concern that the PDA not be interpreted to confer a “‘most-favored-nation’ status” on pregnant employees. Under the ADAAA and its implementing regulations, employers must provide reasonable accommodations for impairments that substantially limit an individual’s ability to lift, bend, walk, or stand, even on a temporary basis. Thus workplace accommodations for health conditions that cause limitations like those caused by pregnancy should now be commonplace (and many conditions associated with pregnancy may qualify as disabilities themselves). Robust enforcement of the PDA’s “same treatment” mandate does not create a danger that pregnant employees will be treated better than other employees; rather, it helps ensure that pregnant employees are not consistently treated less well than other employees.
Keywords: ADA, PDA, pregnancy accommodations, Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, pregnancy discrimination
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