Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Recent Developments in Pregnancy Discrimination Cases

This year the Supreme Court of the United States ("SCOTUS") issued its landmark decision in Young v. UPS whereby the Court set forth the standard courts must apply when a plaintiff brings a disparate treatment claim of intentional discrimination under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.  More specifically, the SCOTUS held that in the absence of direct evidence of discrimination, plaintiffs may prove intentional pregnancy discrimination by using the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting scheme, which is used in disparate treatment discrimination claims in other cases like sex discrimination, disability discrimination, race discrimination, etc.  Previously, pregnancy had been considered a temporary condition and not subject to the reasonable accommodation standard for those individuals with a "qualified disability" under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA")--which is exactly what the lower court in Young held.

In Young, the SCOTUS set forth the prima facie case a plaintiff must present:

1)  she was pregnant;
2)  she requested an accommodation;
3)  her request was denied;
4)  the employer accommodated others "similar in their ability or inability to work."

With respect to the fourth prong, the Court noted that it does not "require the plaintiff to show that those whom the employer favored and those whom the employer disfavored were similar in all but the protected ways."  That is, they need not be "similarly-situated."

Per the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting scheme, once a plaintiff meets their prima facie case, the burden then shifts to the employer to show that its refusal to accommodate a plaintiff was for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason.  Lastly, the plaintiff must then show that the employer's proferred reason for denying the accommodation is "pretext."

Case since Young vs. UPS

As is the case whenever new law or a new standard is introduced into the law, it presents unique questions and challenges in future cases.  On March 30, 2015 of this year, a federal court in New York issued a decision applying the standard in Young v. UPS.

In LaSalle v. City of New York, a female morgue driver became pregnant and issued her employer a physician's note stating that she could not lift more than 45lbs as her job routinely required her to lift cadavers weighing more than 45lbs.  The employer denied this request even though this same employee had not been required to drive the morgue van during her first pregnancy.  The employee ended up injuring herself as a result of the accommodation request denial which put her out of work for several months without pay or insurance while the employer and her attorney engaged in conversations about suitable accommodations--which was ultimately to not have to drive the morgue van.

The employer filed a motion to dismiss which was denied by the court which found that the plaintiff sufficiently pled her claim even though she had not pled the fourth element of the Young prima facie case:  that other employees were provided accommodations.  The court held that the plaintiff had provided sufficient information in her complaint to put the defendant on notice of her claim.

The ADAAA and Pregnancy Discrimination Claims

The 2008 Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act ("ADAAA") was enacted in response to the SCOTUS' numerous decisions finding that plaintiff's had not shown that they were qualified individuals under the ADA and Congress felt that these decisions were not in spirit with the intention of the ADA.  The ADAAA essentially then expanded the interpretation of "disability" by broadening the scope of "substantially limits" and "major life activity" in ways that now permit more pregnancy-related conditions to be considered "disabilities" under the Act.  The ADAAA also limited the relevance of duration of an impairment to certain types of claims, effectively permitting temporary impairments like pregnancy-related conditions to be deemed disabilities (recall from the beginning of this post that pregnancy used to be considered a temporary condition and thus not subject to the ADA).

There has since been several cases interpreting the ADAAA to pregnancy discrimination cases and those decisions can be read about here.  Another tremendous source of information on this topic can be found here.

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