The United States Supreme Court has provided some much needed guidance regarding what employers are required to do when faced with an employee who, for example, asks for accommodation for pregnancy–related physical limitations. The Supreme Court held that the same burden-shifting framework that applies in Title VII sex discrimination cases generally, also applies to pregnancy discrimination cases. Young v. UPS, 135 S. Ct. 1338, 1354 (2015). Generally, a plaintiff may set forth a prima facie case if she can establish 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." Id.
The employer may set forth a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason justify its refusal to accommodate the pregnant worker. The reason cannot consist only of a claim that the accommodation is more expensive or less convenient than its ordinary course of business.
If the employer is able to provide such an apparently legitimate reason, the burden shifts to plaintiff to establish that the employer’s proffered reasons are pre-textual. Such evidence may include proof that the employer accommodated similarly situated workers (ie, with lifting restrictions due to a non-pregnancy related issue) and only failed to accommodate such restrictions for its pregnant workers, which gives rise to an inference of intentional discrimination. Id. at 1353-1355.
In the Young opinion, the Supreme Court pondered the long-term impact of its decision, in light of changes to the ADA. The Court noted: “[i]n 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. ADA Amendments Act of 2008, 122 Stat. 3555, codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 12102(1)-(2). As interpreted by the EEOC, the new statutory definition requires employers to accommodate employees whose temporary lifting restrictions originate off the job.” Young v. UPS, 135 S. Ct. 1338, 1348 (2015). Without addressing this language, one federal district court in Oklahoma has held that, in order to support a claim under the ADA, the plaintiff must have been experiencing an abnormal or high-risk pregnancy. LaCount v. South Lewis SH OPCO, LLC, Case No. 15-CV-545 (N. D. Okla. May 5, 2017) (unpublished opinion). It is not at all clear that other courts would similarly restrict such a claim.