The Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA") is in place, and it prohibits discrimination in the workplace because of pregnancy. For example, an employer cannot refuse to hire a woman because she is pregnant, or has indicated that she plans on becoming so. Similarly, that same employer cannot fire a woman who becomes pregnant, or who ended a pregnancy through an abortion.
Until a very recent United States Supreme Court, the PDA was never interpreted as an accommodation statute. Other laws, like the Americans With Disabilities Act or the Family Medical Leave Act, might, under certain circumstances, require employers to accommodate pregnant employees.
The recent Supreme Court case has changed the terrain. In the case, an employee worked as a driver for UPS. She became pregnant and presented a note from her doctor recommending that she not lift packages heavier than 20 pounds. The employee's actual job involved overnight letters. However, UPS had a rule that its drivers had to be able to lift 70 pound packages.
UPS had a "light duty" positions for employees who were injured at work. It refused to offer the light duty position to the employee because her pregnancy was obviously not a work-related injury.
Did the employer discriminate against the employee because she was pregnant? It would seem like the answer is "no". She was denied the light-duty position because she was not injured at work, not because she was pregnant.
The Supreme Court ruled for the employee, holding that she might have a PDA claim. The Court noted that the employer accommodated many employees (work injuries), but failed to accommodate the pregnant employee. As one judge said: "Why, when the employer accommodated so many, could it not accommodate pregnant women as well?"
Employers need to be alert. Only under limited circumstances should it consider denying pregnant women a benefit that it affords other employees.
If you have questions regarding Pregnancy Claims, or other similar issues, please contact your HWE relationship attorney or visit us at http://www.hwelaw.com.