No Preferential Treatment for Pregnant Employees: Fourth Circuit Holds for Employer in Disability and Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit

Randi Klein Hyatt
Randi Klein Hyatt
02/18/2013

The Fourth Circuit confirmed a delivery driver barred from working due to a pregnancy-related lifting restriction lost her claims under Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) against UPS.  Young v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., No. 11-2078, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 530 (Jan. 9, 2013).

In 2006, UPS employee Peggy Young became pregnant while on leave and was given a twenty-pound lifting restriction.  The ability to lift up to 70 pounds is an essential function for all UPS drivers.  UPS did not permit Young to return to work while on the lifting restriction and declined to offer light duty work to Young (UPS policy was to offer light duty work to only those employees injured on the job or suffering from a permanent impairment cognizable under the ADA).  After exhausting FMLA leave, Young was on an extended unpaid leave of absence and shortly thereafter lost her medical coverage.  She eventually returned to work following the birth of her child.

Because Young filed suit prior to effective date of the ADA Amendment Acts of 2008 (ADAAA), the Fourth Circuit did not consider the effect the ADAAA’s amendments on her ADA claim.  The Fourth Circuit squarely rejected Young’s ADA claim because she failed to establish that UPS “regarded” her as having a disability under the ADA.  Contrary to Young’s contentions, the Court held that UPS did not improperly solicit her doctor’s opinion, but instead “possessed objective facts suggesting Young might have lost the ability to perform central job functions,” and thus had a legitimate reason to obtain verification that Young regained her ability to perform those duties.  Further, UPS did not act inappropriately in not seeking additional information and independently evaluating Young’s ability to work, as it properly relied upon Young’s objective medical evidence.  Finally, Young did not provide evidence that her pregnancy and lifting restriction constituted a disability under the meaning of the ADA.

In rejecting Young’s pregnancy discrimination claim, the Court concluded that UPS’ light duty policy was “pregnancy-blind,” and thus facially a neutral and legitimate business practice.  The Court also did not consider as direct evidence of discrimination a manager’s statements to Young that she was “too much of a liability” while pregnant and not permitted to be in the building while pregnant.  Because the manager had no authority to either make decisions or influence decisions concerning Young’s employment, his statements did not demonstrate “corporate animus.”  Young also failed to establish that similarly situated employees received more favorable treatment than she did.  Young, who was pregnant and placed on a related lifting restriction, was not similarly situated to those employees disabled under the ADA or guaranteed a light duty position.

While the Court was “not unsympathetic” to Young’s situation, it firmly adhered to treating pregnant workers and non-pregnant workers equally.  The Young case serves as a reminder for employers to establish and carry out policies that are neutral and serve legitimate business practices.

 

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