Pregnancy Discrimination – Does My Employer Have to Accommodate My Restrictions?

Pregnancy Discrimination – In 2015, the United States Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision on failure-to-accommodate-pregnancy claims called Young v. UPS.  The nation’s highest Court clarified that the employee’s initial burden in such cases should be neither onerous, nor burdensome. 

To make out such a claim, the Supreme Court stated that the employee must show four (4) elements: (1) she was pregnant; (2) she requested an accommodation; (3) the employer denied the accommodation; and (4) the employer granted similar accommodations to other employees.  Justice Breyer explained the rationale underlying the 4th prong of this test: if the employer could accommodate other employees, why couldn’t the employer accommodate the pregnant employee?

In litigation on failure-to-accommodate-pregnancy claims occurring since the Supreme Court decided Young, the 4th prong of the test has presented the greatest problems for employees.  These problems have mostly derived from insufficiently specific accommodation requests.  The pregnant employee’s doctor may request “light duty” for the employee.  The employer may respond that it does not have “light duty” positions.  For some courts, such an employer response has doomed the employee’s claim.

To enhance the likelihood of success on a failure-to-accommodate-pregnancy claim, the employee’s request for accommodation should be as specific as possible.  The employee should ask her doctor to avoid vague phrases such as “light duty” in accommodation requests and instead provide specific descriptions of the accommodations the employee needs, such as “the employee cannot lift more than 20 pounds.”  This way, if the employer denies the accommodation and the employee brings a claim, evidence of how the employer has responded to similar requests for accommodation of such lifting restrictions will become relevant.  To paraphrase Justice Breyer, if the employer has accommodated other employees with 20-pound lifting restrictions, why couldn’t the employer accommodate the pregnant employee?

If you believe your employer is subjecting you to pregnancy discrimination, you should contact a lawyer experienced in litigating pregnancy discrimination claims such as Benjamin T. King at Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C.  Attorney King can be reached at 1-800-240-1988 or fill out our online contact form

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