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Top Gender Discrimination Lawyer Reply: Can My Job Treat Me Differently Because I’m Pregnant?

On Behalf of | Aug 22, 2014 | americans with disabilities act, Employment Discrimination, Gender Discrimination, pregnancy maternity rights, Wrongful Termination |

Best Ohio Pregnancy Discrimination Attorney Answer: Can my job make me lift heavy items when I’m pregnant? Does my employer have to accommodate my pregnancy related restrictions? Can I be forced to take unpaid leave because I got pregnant? Can I be fired for getting pregnant? How do I find the best gender discrimination lawyer in Ohio?

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The United States Supreme Court is one of the most powerful legal entities in the country. The Court receives nearly 10,000 petition requests per year, however only 75 to 80 cases are selected for oral arguments. Although lawyers are not known for having great math skills, by our calculations, less than one percent of the cases appealed to the Supreme Court end up being heard by the justices. So when a case regarding pregnancy discrimination is selected to be heard by the Court, it’s kind of a big deal to attorneys in our line of work. Recently, the Supreme Court decided to hear the case Young v. UPS.

The plaintiff in that pregnancy case, Peggy Young, was employed at UPS as a part time driver. As a driver, Peggy’s job description required her to be able to manipulate packages weighing up to 70 pounds, and team lift packages weighing up to 150 pounds. Back in July 2006, Peggy took a leave of absence to complete a third attempt to become pregnant using in vitro fertilization. Peggy’s procedure was a success and she notified her employer that her doctor recommended that she not lift anything over 20 pounds. Young extended her leave at some point in 2006, but when she attempted to return to work, UPS told Peggy that she was unable to do so because of her lifting restrictions.

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Peggy used Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) leave until sometime in November 2006, but eventually that leave ran out, and Peggy was off work with no pay and no insurance when she delivered her child in April 2007. Although Young was able to return to work sometime after her delivery, she still brought a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) in July 2007 alleging she had been discriminated against due to her pregnancy. Peggy’s main allegations rested on the fact that UPS allowed employees who were injured on the job or who suffered from a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) to be accommodated with light duty, but denied that same accommodation to individuals who required the accommodation due to pregnancy. The EEOC had jurisdiction over the charge for over a year until September 2008, when the commission issued Young a letter giving her the right to file a lawsuit.

Peggy’s claims were eventually brought under federal laws, namely, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. These laws are meant to protect employees from discrimination because of pregnancy. But UPS claims that their policy was neutral and pregnancy-blind. Both the trial court and United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed with UPS, and the Court of Appeals held in relevant part:

Young contends that the UPS policy that does not provide light duty work to pregnant workers but does for certain other employees constitutes direct evidence of discrimination. It is certainly true that an explicit policy excluding pregnant workers would violate antidiscrimination law. See 29 C.F.R. § 1604.10(a) (“A written or unwritten employment policy or practice which excludes from employment applicants or employees because of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions is in prima facie violation of title VII.”). But no such policy exists here. By limiting accommodations to those employees injured on the job, disabled as defined under the ADA, and stripped of their DOT certification, UPS has crafted a pregnancy-blind policy, and Young does not contend otherwise. Such a policy is at least facially a “neutral and legitimate business practice,” and not evidence of UPS’s discriminatory animus toward pregnant workers. Merritt v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 601 F.3d 289, 297 (4th Cir. 2010). …

As the Supreme Court subsequently recognized, the PDA “makes clear that it is discriminatory to treat pregnancy-related conditions less favorably than other medical conditions.” Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. v. EEOC, 462 U.S. 669, 684 (1983). In addition to including pregnancy-related conditions within the definition of sex discrimination in its first clause, the PDA’s second clause provides that “women affected by pregnancy . . . shall be treated the same for all employmentrelated purposes . . . as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). Standing alone, the second clause’s plain language is unambiguous. See Int’l Union v. Johnson Controls, 499 U.S. 187, 204-05 (1991) (“The second clause could not be clearer: it mandates that pregnant employees ‘shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes’ as nonpregnant employees similarly situated with respect to their ability to work.” (quoting California Fed. Savings and Loan Ass’n. v. Guerra, 479 U.S. 272, 297 (1987) (White, J., dissenting) (internal alterations omitted))). But the second clause does not stand alone; it follows the first clause. Confusion arises when trying to reconcile language in the first clause suggesting the PDA simply expands the category of sex discrimination (without otherwise altering Title VII), and language in the second clause suggesting the statute requires different—perhaps even preferential—treatment for pregnant workers. …

Interpreting the PDA in the manner Young and the ACLU urge would require employers to provide, for example, accommodation or light duty work to a pregnant worker whose restrictions arise from her (off-the-job) pregnancy while denying any such accommodation to an employee unable to lift as a result of an off-the-job injury or illness. Under this interpretation, a pregnant worker who, like Young, was placed under a lifting restriction by her healthcare provider and could not work could claim that the PDA requires that she receive whatever accommodation or benefits are accorded to an individual accommodated under the ADA, because the pregnant worker and the other individual are similar in their ability or inability to work—i.e., they both cannot work. By contrast, a temporary lifting restriction placed on an employee who injured his back while picking up his infant child or on an employee whose lifting limitation arose from her off-the-job work as a volunteer firefighter would be ineligible for any accommodation. Such an interpretation does not accord with Congress’s intent in enacting the PDA, …, and would thus imbue the PDA with a preferential treatment mandate that Congress neither intended nor enacted…

Peggy, and other interested parties appealed, citing to conflicts with other Circuit Courts. We believe that it is a very good sign that the United States Supreme Court accepted certification to finally resolve this issue. Due to this dispute, the Supreme Court will eventually determine if UPS’s failure to provide accommodation to pregnant employees similar to the accommodations provided to injured or disabled employees violates these laws.

A final note to take away from Peggy’s claim, is that it is important to seek the counsel of an attorney. Peggy started her claim in 2006, and her issues have remained undecided nearly eight years later. Although novel issues of law should be addressed in the Court system for clarification, it’s possible Peggy’s case could have settled well before the eight year mark with the guidance of the right attorney and without delays by the EEOC.

If you are facing discrimination or harassment simply because you are pregnant, protect your legal rights — call the right attorney. Under federal and Ohio employment laws, employers cannot harass, fire, wrongfully terminate, discriminate against, demote, or wrongfully discipline a female employee just because she got pregnant. When you call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential initial consultation at 866-797-6040, you will meet with an attorney from The Spitz Law Firm to discuss wrongful discrimination claims and help you determine the best way to pursue your gender/sex discrimination claims. Our pregnancy discrimination lawyers know your rights and will fight to protect them.

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