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U.S. Supreme Court Agrees To Review Young v. UPS

Young v. UPS is, at its core, a claim made by a pregnant employee of UPS that the company’s policy of not accommodating pregnant employees with light duty and office jobs, while accommodating other disabled persons, violates the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.  UPS defended the case by contending that its policy is facially neutral in that it grants accommodations for employees injured on the job but does not grant accommodations for those employees restricted from work because of injuries and events that happen away from the job.

Thus, according to UPS, its policy did not discriminate against pregnant women because an employee who was severely injured while away from work (having nothing to do with pregnancy) would not qualify for an accommodation, just as a pregnant woman would not qualify for an accommodation. At the time, I thought this defense missed the point for two related reasons.

First, an employee who was severely injured away from work would likely be unable to perform one or more major life activities and, as a result, would obtain protection from the ADA.  Employees who are pregnant on the other hand, might not qualify for ADA protection prior to the 2008 amendments to the ADA.  Thus, while UPS’ policy might be “facially neutral” it nonetheless had a much more severe burden on pregnant employees.  And, UPS as a sophisticated employer, was likely well aware of that fact.

Second, the fact that UPS policy would fall harder on pregnant women who might find it more difficult to qualify for ADA protection is exactly the kind of problem the PDA was promulgated to eliminate. In the PDA, congress expressed its will that pregnant employees are entitled to work place protections and policies that discriminate against them, whether facially or as applied, are unlawful.  The PDA was enacted to be broad — if the Act does not protect a pregnant employee who needs an accommodation for a period of months because she cannot lift over 20lbs, the Act would be rather ineffectual.

The Fourth Circuit, however, found in favor of UPS.  The Court determined that UPS’ policy did not violate the PDA and that Young’s pregnancy was not a disability under the pre-2008 ADA and Young’s lawsuit was dismissed.  Young timely appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which has now granted Certiorari and is agreeing to hear the case. The United States Solicitor General has filed a brief, stating that the United States agrees with Young’s position.

Hopefully, the U.S. Supreme Court will reverse, and determine that the PDA protects Young.