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Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals finds that Plaintiff Employee Failed to Establish a Viable Claim for Discrimination Based upon Pregnancy

Young v. UPS, Inc.
No. 11-2078 (4th Cir. Jan. 9, 2013)

by Wayne Heavener, Law Clerk
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

In Young v. UPS, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed a grant of summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer with respect to a plaintiff employee's allegations of employment discrimination. Peggy Young ("Plaintiff") filed a complaint against her employer, UPS, Inc. ("Defendant"), alleging discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and disability. In particular, Plaintiff alleged that that Defendant should have permitted her to continue working during her pregnancy, either as a delivery driver or some other "light duty" assignment. The United States District Court for the District of Maryland granted Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, and Plaintiff appealed. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision, finding that Plaintiff failed to state a viable claim of discrimination based on her pregnancy alone.

Peggy Young ("Plaintiff") drove a delivery truck for UPS ("Defendant"). Her duties included picking up packages from the local airport, loading her van, and making deliveries. In July 2006, Defendant granted Plaintiff leave in order to undergo in vitro fertilization. When Plaintiff became pregnant, she informed Defendant that she would be unable to lift more than twenty (20) pounds during the first twenty (20) weeks of her pregnancy, and then not more than ten (10) pounds thereafter. Defendant's occupational health manager, Carolyn Martin, informed Plaintiff that she would not be permitted to continuing working with the twenty-pound lift restriction; the company's policy required all of its drivers to be able to lift up to seventy (70) pounds. Though the applicable Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") provided workers suffering on-the-job injuries with the opportunity to perform "light duty" work, Ms. Martin determined that Plaintiff did not qualify. Plaintiff's leave under the Federal Medical Leave Act expired in November 2006; she received no pay or medical coverage thereafter. Plaintiff gave birth in April 2007, and returned to work for Defendant.

In July 2007, Plaintiff filed a charge against Defendant with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging discrimination based on race, sex, and pregnancy. After the EEOC issued Plaintiff a right to sue letter, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant seeking damages for discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. 2000e(k), the Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA"), and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq. Following discovery, Defendant moved for summary judgment. The United States District Court for the District of Maryland granted summary judgment for Defendant. On appeal, Plaintiff challenged the district court's grant of summary judgment on her ADA and PDA claims.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment. The Court noted that, in order to establish her claim under the ADA, Plaintiff was required to demonstrate that she had a disability; that she was able to perform the essential functions of her job; and that Defendant took an adverse action against her on account of her disability. The Court concluded that Plaintiff failed to adduce any evidence that her pregnancy, or attendant lifting limitation, constituted a disability within the meaning of the ADA. Though Plaintiff did not contend that her pregnancy alone constituted a disability, she argued that Defendant impermissibly assumed that she had a substantially limiting impairment. The Court held, however, that Plaintiff failed to offer any facts, beyond the pregnancy itself, to demonstrate that Ms. Martin subjectively believed Plaintiff was disabled.

The Court then examined Plaintiff's claim that the PDA required Defendant to provide pregnant workers, like Plaintiff, light duty work. The Court found that Defendant's policy, permitting light duty work only to those employees injured on-the-job, did not discriminate against pregnant women; rather, the policy was "pregnancy-blind." The Court rejected Plaintiff's contention that the PDA created a cause of action separate and apart from her claim under Title VII. Rather, the PDA was definitional with respect to Title VII, making it discriminatory to treat pregnancy related conditions less favorably than other medical conditions. Plaintiff also failed to make a prima facie case of sex discrimination. The Court found that no similarly situated employee received more favorable than Plaintiff received. In reaching its conclusion, the Court rejected Plaintiff's contention that she was in the same class of employees as those protected under ADA. Unlike those employees entitled to light duty work under the CBA, Plaintiff's condition was not the result of an on-the-job injury. Therefore, the Court held that Plaintiff failed to establish that similarly situated employees received more favorable treatment than she did.