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Fourth Circuit Opinion Reaffirms Protections Afforded by Pregnancy Discrimination Act, but Raises Questions About Pregnancy and the ADAAA

on Wednesday, 23 January 2013 in Labor & Employment Law Update: Sarah M. Huyck, Editor

On January 9, 2013, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Young v. UPS in which it considered whether UPS’s “facially neutral” light duty policy violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). Despite arguments from Young and the ACLU (which submitted an amicus brief in support of Young) that UPS’s facially neutral policy was both “direct and indirect” evidence of pregnancy discrimination, the Fourth Circuit concluded that UPS’s policy of not offering light duty to pregnant employees (while offering it to several other categories of employees) was lawful.

Young started working for UPS in 1999 and began driving a delivery truck in 2002. By 2006 and throughout the relevant time period, Young held a position as a part-time, early morning driver. Young took a leave of absence to try her third round of in vitro fertilization in July 2006. When she became pregnant, she sought to extend her leave. In September 2006, she left a note with her supervisor indicating that she could not lift more than twenty pounds for the first twenty weeks of her pregnancy and not more than ten pounds thereafter. Young’s supervisor informed her that she could not return to work with a twenty-pound lifting restriction because the essential functions of her job required her to lift up to seventy pounds. At that time, Young was not ready to return to work anyway.

In October 2006, Young’s medical provider again opined in writing that Young should not lift more than twenty pounds. Young approached her supervisor with her medical provider’s note and requested to return to work. In response, her supervisor explained four things: (1) UPS only offered light duty for those with on-the-job injuries, those accommodated under the ADA, and those who had lost DOT certification, but not for pregnancy; (2) Young did not qualify for short-term disability benefits because she had presented no note stating she could not work at all; (3) Young had exhausted her leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act; and (4) Young could not continue working as a driver with a twenty-pound lifting restriction.

By November 2006, Young’s FMLA leave had expired. She then went on an extended leave of absence, receiving no pay and eventually losing her medical coverage by the end of that year. Young gave birth on April 29, 2007 and returned to work for UPS at some point thereafter.

Young sued UPS in October 2008 alleging, among other things, that UPS discriminated against her on the basis of her sex in violation of Title VII and on the basis of disability in violation of the ADA. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of UPS on all of Young’s claims. Young appealed to the Fourth Circuit, specifically claiming that UPS discriminated against her because she was pregnant and that it impermissibly regarded her as disabled under the ADA.

With regard to her ADA claim, the heart of Young’s appeal was that her supervisor had drawn inaccurate conclusions about her ability to work because he regarded her as disabled. The Fourth Circuit wrote that “given the relatively manageable weight restriction – twenty pounds – and the short duration of the restriction, there is no evidence that Young’s pregnancy or her attendant lifting limitation constituted a disability within the meaning of the ADA.” The Fourth Circuit conceded, however, that its analysis relied upon cases interpreting the pre-2008 ADA rather than the ADAAA because the relevant facts of Young’s case occurred in 2007. The Fourth Circuit went on to acknowledge that the “ADAAA effectively overruled” the cases it relied upon to affirm the trial court’s dismissal of Young’s ADA claim, thus leaving open the question of whether the ADAAA would require UPS to accommodate pregnant women with temporary physical limitations. It is worth noting that both Young and the ACLU argued that the ADAAA would require UPS to offer such accommodations.

Young argued to the Fourth Circuit that UPS’s policy of not providing light duty for pregnant employees while providing it for others constituted direct evidence of pregnancy discrimination. Specifically, Young and the ACLU argued that the PDA required UPS to provide light duty for pregnant employees if it had a policy of providing light duty to any other class of employees suffering from temporary physical limitations. The Fourth Circuit noted that such an argument “posits that the PDA creates a cause of action . . . by compelling employers to grant pregnant employees a ‘most favored nation’ status with others based on their ability to work, regardless of whether such status was available to the universe – male and female – of non-pregnant employees.” In rejecting that interpretation of the PDA, the Fourth Circuit quoted the Seventh Circuit’s 1994 holding in Troupe v. May Dep’t Stores, Co., wherein the court wrote: “The Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not, despite the urgings of feminist scholars . . . require employers to offer maternity leave or take other steps to make it easier for pregnant woman to work. Employers can treat pregnant woman as badly as they treat similarly affected but non-pregnant employees . . . .” To hold otherwise, the Fourth Circuit concluded, would “imbue the PDA with a preferential treatment mandate that Congress neither intended nor enacted . . . .”

The Fourth Circuit’s decision reaffirms the protections afforded by the PDA, but certainly raises questions about how trial and appeals courts might decide future, similar cases under the ADAAA.

George E. Martin, III

Read the Full Newsletter: Labor & Employment Law Alert January 23, 2013

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