Second Circuit Court of Appeals Remands Pregnancy Discrimination Claim for Trial In Light of Young v. UPS Decision
Published by Eric A. Welter on June 15, 2016
A recent decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals further demonstrates that pregnancy discrimination may still exist, even in cases where employers apply policies equally for pregnant and non-pregnant employees alike.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) provided a framework for pregnant employees challenging their employers’ accommodation policies and practices under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of Title VII, in Young v. UPS. The Court held that to bring such a claim, a pregnant employee must show that their employer refused to provide accommodations, and that the employer later provided accommodations to other employees with similar restrictions.
An appeal of a pregnancy discrimination claim originating in New York had been pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in March 2015 when the Court issued its decision in Young. The case is Legg v. Ulster County, No. 14-3636 (2d Cir. Apr. 26, 2016).
In Legg, the plaintiff, a corrections officer at the Ulster County jail, requested light duty for her pregnancy. The County, however, had a policy that only employees injured on the job were eligible for light duty assignments. At first the County accommodated the plaintiff with light duty work, but then she was eventually reassigned back to regular duty, working directly with inmates. Thus, the County ultimately denied the request for accommodation because her pregnancy was not an on-the-job injury.
In the plaintiff’s lawsuit, a federal district court judge in New York dismissed the plaintiff’s pregnancy discrimination claim against the County because the judge found that the County had a neutral policy of not providing light duty except for on-the-job injuries. The judge held that the County’s light duty policy “applied across the board to everyone” so it was not discriminatory as a matter of law.
On appeal, the Second Circuit vacated the judgment of dismissal of the pregnancy discrimination claim, confirming Young’s mandate that pregnant employees had to be treated the same as similarly-situated persons with physical restrictions who were not pregnant. Even though the County argued that it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its decision, the Second Circuit determined that a jury could find that reason to be pretextual.
Pregnancy discrimination has been a hot-button issue for courts across the nation and in many instances pregnancy discrimination claims have been decided in favor of the employee. Thus, it is important for employers to accommodate pregnancy-related work restrictions if possible.
Employers must also know and comply with the laws of the states in which they have employees because individual states may require employers to accommodate pregnancy-related work restrictions. For example, California requires an employer to grant an employee’s request for reasonable accommodation when disabled by pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition. See Cal. Gov’t Code section 12945.