New EEOC enforcement guidance on pregnancy discrimination and workplace accommodations for pregnant employees

 Iowa Employment & Labor Law Dickinson Law Des Moines Iowa

Posted on 07/22/2014 at 01:11 PM by The Newsroom

On July 14, 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published an enforcement guidance entitled Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues. The Guidance explains the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), describes ways in which the EEOC believes it is violated, and emphasizes the PDA's requirement that an employer treat an employee temporarily unable to perform the functions of her job because of her pregnancy-related condition in the same manner as it treats other employees similar in their ability or inability to work, whether by providing modified tasks, alternative assignments, or fringe benefits such as disability leave and leave without pay.

Pregnancy alone is not a disability under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) or the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA). However, the EEOC's Guidance discusses when the PDA and the ADA require an employer to provide reasonable accommodations for workers with pregnancy-related disabilities or work restrictions. According to the EEOC's Guidance, pursuant to the ADA, 'pregnant employees with disabilities are entitled to the same workplace accommodations as other individuals. Thus, [a] pregnant employee may be entitled to reasonable accommodation under the ADA for limitations resulting from pregnancy-related conditions that constitute a disability or for limitations resulting from the interaction of the pregnancy with an underlying impairment.

This topic is not without controversy. While the EEOC is a federal agency charged with enforcing the federal civil rights laws, including the PDA and the ADA, its enforcement guidances do not have the same force and effect of legislatively-enacted statutes or administratively-promulgated regulations. Thus, EEOC enforcement guidances are good tools to gauge how the EEOC may interpret specific matters but are not legally binding on courts' interpretations of the same issues. This point may be illustrated sometime in the next year when the U.S. Supreme Court decides the case of Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS).

Peggy Young was a UPS driver and occasionally lifted packages weighing up to 70 pounds. During her pregnancy, Young's midwife recommended she not lift more than 20 pounds. Young requested that UPS accommodate her current position or provide her with a light-duty position, but UPS refused. It is undisputed that UPS provided such accommodations for (1) people with disabilities under the ADA, (2) workers with on-the-job injuries, and (3) those who lose their DOT certification. According to Young, the PDA requires that employers who accommodate non-pregnant employees must also accommodate pregnant employees with similar work limitations. The district court disagreed with Young, finding that UPS determination not to accommodate Young's lifting restriction was based on 'gender-neutral criteria. Young appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which agreed that UPS' accommodations policy is pregnancy-blind and therefore did not violate Young's rights under the PDA. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Young's appeal during its next term, which begins in October. Regardless of the outcome in Young v. UPS, Iowa employers should remember that they must also comply with the ICRA's requirement that they grant a leave of absence to an employee disabled by pregnancy for the period that the employee is disabled because of the employee's pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, or for eight weeks, whichever is less.

The material in this blog is not intended, nor should it be construed or relied upon, as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney if specific legal information is needed. 


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