Earlier this month, the Supreme Court granted cert in a pregnancy discrimination case to determine whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA") requires employers who make accommodations for people with short-term disabilities to make the same accommodations for pregnant workers.
A mere two weeks later, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new guidelines related to pregnancy discrimination, reports The Washington Post. Let's take a closer look at the coincidental timing, the new guidelines, and what this means for your company.
The UPS Case
Peggy Young was denied light duty work, and was told not to return to her job at UPS until she was no longer pregnant. Despite the clear statutory language in the PDA that requires that "women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes ... as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work," many circuits have come to different conclusions.
Interestingly, the Solicitor General filed an amicus brief asking the Court not to grant cert. because (1) 2008 amendments to the ADA, which were not in place at the time of the underlying cause of action; and (2) the EEOC "currently considering the adoption of new enforcement guidance on pregnancy discrimination that would address a range of issues related to pregnancy under the PDA and the ADA."
The New Guidelines
It's interesting that the U.S. brief urged cert. denial because of pending EEOC guidelines, and exactly two weeks after cert. is granted, the EEOC voted and released its guidelines. The guidelines passed with a vote, made on partisan lines, of 3-2. In trying to clarify the intersection of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the PDA, EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien stated:
Pregnancy is not a justification for excluding women from jobs that they are qualified to perform, and it cannot be a basis for denying employment or treating women less favorably than co-workers similar in their ability or inability to work. ... Despite much progress, we continue to see a significant number of charges alleging pregnancy discrimination, and our investigations have revealed the persistence of overt pregnancy discrimination, as well as the emergence of more subtle discriminatory practices.
A quick look at the EEOC Fact Sheet shows that the EEOC interprets the PDA to prohibit discrimination based on pregnancy (current, past or potential), and requires employers to treat pregnant women "in the same manner as other applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work." The EEOC also goes on to clarify that although pregnancy alone is not a disability under the ADA, "pregnant workers may have impairments related to their pregnancies that qualify as disabilities under the ADA."
So what does this all mean for your company? At least until we hear from the Supreme Court on this issue, it would be wise to read the EEOC's new guidelines and evaluate your company's practices. A refresher course for management would be in order. While the EEOC guidance is helpful, it certainly doesn't have the force of law that a Supreme Court decision has. For that, we'll have to wait for the Supreme Court's next term -- and that wait could take us to June 2015.
- Questions and Answers about the EEOC's Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues (EEOC)
- EEOC Publishes New Guidelines on Religious Garb and Grooming (FindLaw's In House Blog)
- 'Price Is Right' Loses Legal Showdown Over Maternity Leave (FindLaw's In House Blog)
- Burger King's Racist Sign, the EEOC, and Practice Tips (FindLaw's In House Blog)