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June 26 — The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has modified its pregnancy discrimination enforcement guidance to make changes necessitated by a U.S. Supreme Court decision this year that disagreed with some aspects of the agency's prior guidance, the agency announced June 25.
The EEOC originally had issued its guidance, which discusses pregnancy issues under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, last July, less than two weeks after the Supreme Court had granted review in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc.
That case raised the issue of whether the PDA required an employer to offer light duty to a female employee with a pregnancy-related lifting restriction when the employer granted that accommodation to at least some nonpregnant employees with the same work restriction.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court reversed a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decision dismissing a former United Parcel Service driver's pregnancy bias claim, ruling former employee Peggy Young could prove a PDA violation if the employer's policies placed a “significant burden” on pregnant workers without a “sufficiently strong justification” (Young v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 135 S. Ct. 1338, 126 FEP Cases 765 (U.S. 2015)).
But the Supreme Court expressly disagreed with the EEOC's view, stated in its enforcement guidance as well as in an amicus brief for Young, that the UPS policy of limiting light duty to certain categories of employees was “facially discriminatory” on the basis of pregnancy.
The updated guidance reflects the court's conclusion that women may be able to prove unlawful pregnancy discrimination if the employer accommodated some workers but refused to accommodate pregnant women, the EEOC said. The court said employer policies that don't intend to discriminate based on pregnancy nevertheless may violate the PDA if the policy imposes significant burdens on pregnant employees without a sufficiently strong justification, the EEOC said.
The PDA is a 1978 amendment to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that Congress passed in response to General Electric Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125, 13 FEP Cases 1657 (U.S. 1976), in which the Supreme Court had ruled pregnancy discrimination wasn't sex discrimination under Title VII and an employer could legally exclude pregnancy from its short-term disability benefits policy.
The court's ruling in Young doesn't require changes in many parts of the EEOC's enforcement guidance, including sections related to the PDA's application to lactation and breast-feeding, the law's prohibition of forced leave polices and an employer's obligation to treat women and men the same regarding parental leave policies, the agency said.
The court also didn't discuss the effect of the ADA Amendments Act on workers with pregnancy-related impairments, so the enforcement guidance's discussion of the ADA remains the same, the EEOC said.
In addition to the modified enforcement guidance, the EEOC issued a revised question-and-answer document on pregnancy discrimination issues and a new small business fact sheet.
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Text of the modified EEOC enforcement guidance is available at http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pregnancy_guidance.cfm, the question-and-answer sheet at http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pregnancy_qa.cfm and the small business fact sheet at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/pregnancy_factsheet.cfm.
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