In the Courts

Light Duty Programs May Extend to Pregnant Workers

Employers may be legally required to open their workers' comp light duty programs to pregnant workers.
By: | April 3, 2015

A pregnant part-time UPS driver’s claim that the company’s light-duty program should have been extended to her is not over yet. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the company’s summary judgment and remanded the case back to a lower court.

The case has drawn attention from workers’ comp practitioners since employees injured at work were among those included in the UPS program. The company’s policy also applied to workers with a disability covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and those who had lost their Department of Transportation certifications.

“Questions about whether the United Parcel Service accommodated most nonpregnant employees with lifting limitations while categorically failing to accommodate pregnant employees with lifting limitations along with evidence that UPS had multiple policies that accommodated nonpregnant employees with lifting restrictions could, in the eyes of the U.S. Supreme Court, lead a reasonable jury to determine that UPS’ reasons for failing to accommodate pregnant employees with lifting restrictions violated the second clause of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act,” according to the decision.

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Peggy Young was required to lift up to 70 pounds under the UPS policy. When she became pregnant, she was restricted to lifting no more than 20 pounds.

The company denied her request, saying its light-duty accommodation was limited to drivers in the three categories. Young spent most of her pregnancy at home without pay and later sued, claiming the company’s policy amounted to discrimination against her due to her pregnancy.

“The record here shows that Young created a genuine dispute as to whether UPS provided more favorable treatment to at least some employees whose situation cannot reasonably be distinguished from hers,” the court said. “It is left to the Fourth Circuit to determine on remand whether Young also created a genuine issue of material fact as to whether UPS’ reasons for having treated Young less favorably than these other nonpregnant employees were pretextual.”

But it’s uncertain what effect the case may have on future claims seeking to force workers’ comp light-duty programs to include pregnant workers with restrictions. The court said that statutory changes made after the time of Young’s pregnancy may limit the significance of the decision.

“In 2008, Congress expanded the definition of ‘disability’ under the ADA to make clear that ‘physical or mental impairment[s] that substantially limi[t]’ an individual’s ability to lift, stand, or bend are ADA-covered disabilities,” the court noted. “As interpreted by the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] the new statutory definition requires employers to accommodate employees whose temporary lifting restrictions originate off the job.”

Nancy Grover is the president of NMG Consulting and the Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]