On June 25, 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) updated its Enforcement Guidance: Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues to make it consistent with the decision in Young v.United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS), the most recent U.S. Supreme Court case on pregnancy discrimination.
The Young court analyzed under what circumstances the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) requires an employer to provide work accommodations it provides to non-pregnant employees to pregnant employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.”
Before Young v. UPS, the EEOC’s interpretation of the PDA was that it required employers to treat pregnant workers with work limitations more favorably compared to non-pregnant employees with work limitations due to reasons other than pregnancy. Based on this interpretation, the EEOC previously advised in its guidance:
[A]n employer is obligated to treat a pregnant employee temporarily unable to perform the functions of her job the same as it treats other employees similarly unable to perform their jobs, whether by providing modified tasks, alternative assignments, leave, or fringe benefits.
An employer may not refuse to treat a pregnant worker the same as other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work by relying on a policy that makes distinctions based on the source of an employee’s limitations (e.g., a policy of providing light duty only to workers injured on the job).
In Young , the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the EEOC’s guidance and held that the PDA does not grant pregnant workers a “most-favored-nation” status. You can read more about the case in a summary of Young v. UPS written by Attorney Stevens.
The majority of the guidance remains unchanged, and only the portion that was criticized by the Young court was amended. While the changes should come as no surprise to those who followed Young , below are the sections that were rewritten:
- Section I.A.5. Persons Similar in Their Ability or Inability to Work
- This section was deleted in its entirety
- Section I.B.1. Disparate Treatment
- The guideline regarding how to prove a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was revised consistent with Young.
- A new example of evidence indicating disparate treatment based on Young was added.
- Section I.C.1. a. Disparate Treatment (Formerly “a. Disparate Treatment: Pregnancy-Related Comments as Direct Evidence of Discrimination”)
- This section, which pertains to disparate treatment involving light duty, was significantly rewritten to reflect the holding of Young and is worth taking the time to read.
Although the Court in Young rejected the EEOC’s literal interpretation of the PDA, an employer may still be found to have violated the PDA if its seemingly nondiscriminatory, harmless work accommodation policy poses a significant burden on pregnant workers. Therefore, employers should review their workplace accommodation policies to assess whether the administration of such policies may result in unfair treatment of pregnant workers.