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Advancing Pregnancy Rights

In a win for pregnancy rights, the United States Supreme Court recently considered whether employers must provide light duty to pregnant employees who require the same. In Young v. UPS, the plaintiff was a female part-time driver whose duties included picking up and delivering packages. Her doctor instructed that she should not lift more than twenty pounds during the first twenty weeks of her pregnancy or lift ten pounds thereafter. UPS required its drivers to lift up to seventy pounds. UPS had a light duty position which was available to persons hurt on the job or who were disabled under federal law. Having determined that she did not meet either of those criteria, UPS forced Ms. Young out of work and she lost her medical coverage.

The distinction that Ms. Young was not "disabled" may be surprising but there are a series of opinions which hold that pregnancy is not a form of disability within the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). The question before the Supreme Court was whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA") also required accommodation. The claim in this matter was premised upon the PDA's second clause which states that employers must treat "women affected by pregnancy... the same for all employment-related purposes... as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work." 

The Supreme Court went on to hold that an individual pregnant worker who seeks to disparate treatment may make out a prima facie case under the McDonnell Douglas framework by showing that she belongs to the protected class, that she sought accommodation, that the employer did not accommodate her, and that the employer did accommodate others similar in their ability or inability to work. The employer may then seek to justify its refusal to accommodate the plaintiff by relying on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for denying accommodation.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD") has its own recent amendment to include pregnancy as a protected category. However, because of the recent amendment there is not yet much case law interpreting the same. The Young decision forecasts well in New Jersey as federal anti-discrimination statutes and holdings are typically seen as a "floor" and not ceiling. We can expect to see a test case soon on the question of pregnancy accommodation. The interesting question will be whether under New Jersey Law pregnancy alone is enough to establish a right to reasonable accommodation or if it will only be available by way of comparison. 

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