Supreme Court Establishes Standard for Accommodating Pregnant Employees

The United States Supreme in Young v. UPS overturned a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that dismissed a pregnant employee's claim that she was discriminated against when United Parcel Service (UPS) denied her light duty work. In doing so, the Court established a new standard governing an employer's obligation to accommodate pregnant employees under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). 

Peggy Young worked for UPS as a parcel sorter. After she became pregnant she was advised by her doctor to not lift anything weighing more than 20 pounds. Accordingly, she requested a light-duty assignment for the duration of her pregnancy. UPS refused and required Young to take unpaid leave, taking the position that lifting more than 20 pounds was an essential job function. UPS did, however, provide light duty assignment for employees who were injured at work and as a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities. Young claims that UPS was required under the PDA to provide her with light-duty work on the same basis provided to other employees in similar circumstances.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granted summary judgment for UPS and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s ruling. The Fourth Circuit held that employers are not required to provide pregnant employees with light-duty assignments if the employer treats pregnant and non-pregnant employees the same with respect to offering accommodations.

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court vacated the Fourth Circuit decision. The Court stated that the PDA does not “grant pregnant workers an unconditional most-favored-nation status,” meaning employers do not have to offer pregnant employees benefits that are not provided to non-pregnant employees. However, the Court also stated that an employer cannot “treat pregnancy less favorably than diseases or disabilities resulting in a similar inability to work.” Therefore, the Supreme Court ruled that an employee must be able show that her pregnancy “actually motivated the employer’s decision” using the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. Under this framework, the employee may establish a prima facie case by showing that: (1) she belongs to a protected class; (2) she sought an accommodation; (3) the employer did not accommodate her; and (4) the employer accommodated others similar in their ability or inability to work. The employer may then seek to justify its refusal to accommodate by relying on “legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons” which, the Court stated, normally cannot consist simply of a claim that it is more expensive or less convenient to accommodate pregnant women. If the employer offers a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions, the burden then shifts back to the employee to show that the reasons offered by the employer are pretextual.

The Court remanded the case to the Fourth Circuit to determine whether there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether UPS’ reasons for denying Young an accommodation are pretextual.

NLRB General Counsel Issues Guidance on Employment Policies

The General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a 30-page Memorandum on how employers can draft policies that comply with the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRB's Regional Directors act on behalf of the General Counsel in determining whether a charge has merit. Therefore, the Memorandum provides helpful input to employers on the NLRB's likely position on various policies such as confidentiality, professionalism rules, anti-harassment, trademarks, photography/recording rules, and media contact rules. Employers are urged to review their employment policies in light of the Memorandum.

NLRB's New Rules on the Election Process Set to Take Effect

As a reminder, the NLRB's new "quickie election" rules take effect on April 14, 2015. We provided a summary of the new rules in our last alert. Congress approved a resolution that would have blocked the rules from taking effect. However, President Obama vetoed the resolution on March 31, 2015. 

Revised Notice of Paid Sick Leave and Revised DOL Guidance

The Connecticut Department of Labor released a revised Paid Sick Leave notice that employers may use to satisfy their notice obligations under the law. The notice includes certain revisions that have been made to the law since it was passed in 2012. It clarifies that the payroll period containing October 1 must be used to determine whether or not an employer has 50 or more employees. The notice also states that covered employers may choose any 365-day period to calculate benefits for paid sick leave. Covered employers should post the notice in a conspicuous place accessible to service workers, in both English and Spanish. The DOL also published a revised Guidance concerning Connecticut's Paid Sick Leave law.  The revised poster and Guidance can be found here.

DOL Final Rule Would Extend FMLA Rights to Same Sex Couples, But Ruling is Being Challenged

In response to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor, the federal Department of Labor issued a final rule that allows workers in legal, same-sex marriages, regardless of where they live, to take FMLA leave to care for a spouse with a serious health condition. Previously, the definition of "spouse" did not include same-sex spouses if an employee resided in a state that did not recognize the employee's same-sex marriage. Under the DOL's new "place of celebration rule", all legally married couples are deemed spouses under the FMLA regardless of whether the state in which they currently reside recognizes such marriages. The DOL's rule, however, has been challenged by a group of several states' Attorneys General who filed an injunction action in a Texas federal district court.  The Texas court granted the injunction and issued a stay of the rule, finding that the DOL had exceeded its authority.

DOL Issues Final Rule on Sarbanes Oxley Whistleblower Claims

On March 5, 2015, the Department of Labor issued a final rule regarding retaliation under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Dodd-Frank Act. The final rule essentially makes it easier for whistleblowers to bring retaliation complaints and provides them with greater protection from retaliation. OSHA is responsible for handling these retaliation claims.

If you have any questions, please contact any member of the Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey Labor and Employment Practice Group for more information.


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