Pregnancy Discrimination Law May Leave Some Employers Feeling Like a Babe in The Woods

May 5, 2015

Running a business is, undeniably, a daunting task. On top of the challenge of running a business, today’s employers are also responsible for staying current with the latest and greatest legal developments impacting their workplaces. One area of increased emphasis for enforcement agencies like the EEOC, and plaintiffs’ attorneys as well, is pregnancy discrimination.

Employers have good reason to ensure that their practices and policies are in compliance with current law. Recently, the EEOC released an updated enforcement guidance on pregnancy discrimination claims under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act [a copy of the guidance is available here:]. I recently attended a national employment and labor relations conference at which the EEOC’s General Counsel, David Lopez, reinforced the importance of pregnancy discrimination cases within the EEOC’s enforcement agenda.

Interestingly, this week [December 3rd to be precise] the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in Young v. United Parcel Service, a case most observers anticipate will be used by the Court as a vehicle to determine whether the EEOC, through its recent guidance document [see the link above], correctly interprets the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in concluding that an 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.”

In Young, the lower federal court ruled in favor of UPS, holding that a light-duty policy that reserved light-duty work/positions exclusively for employees who have sustained occupational injuries [and those employees who have disabilities within the meaning of the ADA, and who have lost their certification to drive commercial motor vehicles], was “a pregnancy-blind policy,” and consistent with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act [a copy of the decision is available here: Young_v._UPS.

Also, a federal jury in California recently awarded $185 million in punitive damages to a former AutoZone Stores, Inc. manager who claimed AutoZone terminated her employment after she complained about being demoted as a result of giving birth [I know, it’s California—but the decision is still noteworthy in terms of trends]. AutoZone probably has a good argument that the award should be reduced based upon statutory caps on damages, or because the award is unconstitutionally excessive—but the award is a stark reminder to employers to proceed with caution when dealing with pregnant employees.

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