By Deryn Sumner
Last year, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Young v. UPS, 575 U.S. __ (2015), to provide guidance as to how claims under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act should be analyzed. In a 6-3 decision authored by Justice Breyer, the Supreme Court held that the burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) should apply to claims raised under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Thus, just as in other claims involving allegations of disparate treatment motivated by discrimination, the employee bringing the complaint must first establish a prima facie claim by showing membership in a protected class, an adverse employment action, and some inference to support that the adverse employment action is related to the employee’s membership in the protected class. If the employee makes such a showing, the burden shifts to the employer to provide a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the action identified, and then the burden shifts once again back to the employee to show that the reasons given are pretext for discrimination. Given the similarities in claims of employment discrimination raised under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to cases raised under Title VII and accompanying statutes, the decision in Young instructing courts to apply this framework to claims of pregnancy discrimination made a lot of sense. At its core, all of these claims concern an employee alleging he or she is being treated differently because of membership in a class determined to be protected by Congress.
However, it’s always nice to have case law applying Supreme Court framework to federal sector cases and last month, the Office of Federal Operations gave us just that in two cases issued on the same day.
In Roxane C. v. USPS, EEOC No. 0120131635 (July 19, 2016), the complainant alleged that the agency told her, an employee with medical restrictions related to pregnancy, that there was no work available within her restrictions and sent her home without pay. The EEOC found that an administrative judge improperly granted summary judgment in the agency’s favor because genuine issues of material fact remained as to how the agency treated those other employees who requested light duty, but who were not pregnant. According to the decision, the evidence seemed to show that the agency may have provided work to those who had suffered on-the-job injuries, and thus also had restrictions requiring light duty. The facts are remarkably similar to those in the Young case. If true, it appears the complainant may have experienced disparate treatment as compared to others outside of her protected class, just the type of evidence the McDonnell Douglas framework envisioned.
And in the other decision issued that day concerning pregnancy discrimination, Andera P. v. USPS, EEOC No. 0120152639 (July 19, 2016), the complainant alleged she was terminated due to pregnancy for excessive absences for her use of 45 hours of leave during her probationary period. The EEOC remanded the case for further investigation as to what specific accommodations were requested and not provided to the complainant, specific information regarding her medical restrictions, and whether similarly-situated, non-pregnant employees were allowed to use similar amounts of leave without being terminated.
Both decisions reference and apply the Young framework in remanding the cases for further proceedings. [email protected]