Supreme Court Sends Young v. UPS Back to Lower Court

Employers hoping for a UPS Inc. win in the pregnancy accommodation case brought by one of its former workers, Peggy Young, will have to wait a little longer for clarity.

In a 6-3 decision on March 25, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case, Young v. United Parcel Service Inc., back to a lower court, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which gives Young another opportunity to prove she was discriminated against under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

As Workforce detailed in its February coverage, the case revolves around what reasonable accommodations companies are required to make for pregnant workers, even if the source of the “disability” did not occur at the workplace. In 2007, Young, a former UPS driver, filed the lawsuit claiming that the shipping giant did not provide reasonable light-duty accommodations as recommended by her doctor when she became pregnant.

She was put on unpaid leave in 2006 when she became pregnant.

Courts have twice ruled in favor of UPS in the case, saying the company was not required to offer the accommodations since they did not stem from anything work-related.

Offering perspective to employers regarding the case, Michael Droke, a Seattle-based partner at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney, said in a written statement, “Employers should beware that federal law, either under the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] or Pregnancy Discrimination Act, protect disabled employees from discrimination and, in some cases, require reasonable accommodation. The court refused to grant pregnant employees, in the court’s words, a ‘most favored nations’ status.

“In other words, an employer is not automatically required to give pregnant workers the same accommodations they would offer to others with temporary disabilities. However, the court required UPS to justify its treatment by establishing a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the difference. This may prove a very difficult burden for most employers to meet."

In response to the ruling, UPS issued the following written statement: "UPS is pleased that the Supreme Court rejected the argument that UPS's pregnancy-neutral policy was inherently discriminatory. Instead, the Supreme Court adopted a new standard for evaluating pregnancy discrimination claims without ruling for either party, and sent the case back to the lower courts for further consideration under the new standard. We are confident that those courts will find that UPS did not discriminate against Ms. Young under this newly announced standard." 

"This is a big win for Peggy Young and other women in the workplace," Young's lawyer, Sam Bagenstos, told Reuters.

He added that the court "made clear that employers may not refuse to accommodate pregnant workers based on considerations of cost or convenience when they accommodate other workers."