Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting with EEOC Commissioner Victoria Lipnic on the EEOC’s pregnancy discrimination guidance and how employers should address pregnancy accommodations in the workplace. Our presentation was part of an outstanding FMLA/ADA compliance conference hosted by the Disability Management Employer Coalition. You can access BloombergBNA’s coverage of our presentation here (pdf).
From the employer perspective, there were several key takeaways from Commissioner Lipnic’s comments about the recent Young v. UPS pregnancy discrimination case and her opinion on whether an employers have an obligation to provide accommodations to pregnant employees:
1. We can’t really figure out what the Supreme Court is telling us in Young v. UPS. As you may recall, I gave feedback to employers on the Young case here. In that case, the Supreme Court gave pregnant employees a path to argue that a workplace accommodation provided to other non-pregnant employees but denied to them is illegal under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). However, the Court was hardly clear in explaining how a pregnant employee actually establishes her case.
2. Given the lack of clear guidance from the Supreme Court, Commissioner Lipnic bluntly concluded, “Why wouldn’t employers accommodate pregnant employees as they do others?” Refusing to do so carries a whole lot of risk. Keep in mind: if one of the Republican EEOC Commissioners is telling us we need to provide accommodations to pregnant employees (ahem, that’s Cmmr. Lipnic), then we can expect that the EEOC clearly will be taking a fairly liberal position when it comes to providing accommodations to pregnant employees in the workplace. Just giving fair warning now.
3. Commissioner Lipnic and I both encouraged employers to consider how they have treated comparable employees before refusing to provide an accommodation to a pregnant employee. Although the Supreme Court didn’t give employers a clear road map in the Young case, the Court took pause over the fact that UPS offered light duty to several groups of employees (e.g., those injured on the job, those with an ADA disability, and those who temporarily lost their DOT license) but did not offer the same to Young when she sought an accommodation after her pregnancy restricted the work she could perform.
The Young court opinion raised a key question that I believe other federal trial court judges likely will pose to employers: “Why, when the employer accommodated so many, could it not accommodate the pregnant women as well?” It is critical that employers be prepared to address this question, so it should be central to our discussions now about how we implement the Young decision in our workplaces.
In short, before we deny accommodations to pregnant employees who are restricted in their work, employers must be prepared to distinguish accommodations provided to other employees. For instance, is there anything particularly unique about the accommodation provided to others but not to a pregnant employee? If only provided to one group of employees, what’s our rationale?
4. Commissioner Lipnic confirmed that the EEOC already is revising its July 2014 pregnancy discrimination guidance in light of the Young decision, and the changes will focus largely on the evidence necessary to establish a pregnancy discrimination/accommodation claim under the “burden shift” analysis identified by the Supreme Court. Think the EEOC will allow employers to comment on any proposed changes? Who wants to make a friendly wager with me?
Jeff Nowak is a Partner at the law firm of Franczek Radelet and serves as co-chair of the firm’s Labor and Employment Practice and was named by Law Bulletin Publishing as one of Illinois’ top “40 Attorneys Under 40” to watch in 2012. Jeff is widely recognized as one of the nation’s foremost FMLA and ADA experts, regularly counseling clients on compliance with FMLA and ADA regulations, conducting FMLA/ADA audits and training, and successfully litigating FMLA and ADA lawsuits. Jeff is the author of the firm’s highly regarded FMLA Insights blog, which has been selected for four consecutive years by the ABA Journal as one of the top 100 legal blogs (2011-2014) and was also voted the No. 2 Labor and Employment blog by LexisNexis.
The above article first appeared in FMLA Insights and is reprinted with Jeff’s permission.