New EEOC Developments Expand Employers’ Pregnancy Accommodation Obligations

For the first time in more than 30 years, on July 14, 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) overhauled its guidance on pregnancy discrimination issues—broadening anti-discrimination coverage and cautioning employers on their obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with pregnancy-related conditions. The EEOC’s Guidance takes the position that, under multiple federal statutes, employers have broad accommodation and non-discrimination obligations with respect to pregnant employees, recently pregnant employees, and lactating employees. The EEOC Guidance signals an aggressive enforcement stance by the EEOC, and it conflicts with some federal court cases, although other federal courts have ruled consistently with the EEOC’s position. Just two weeks prior to the issuance of the EEOC Guidance, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a petition for certiorari in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., to address whether, and in what circumstances, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k) (“PDA”), which was an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, requires an employer that provides work accommodations to non-pregnant employees with work limitations to provide work accommodations to pregnant employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.” Until the Supreme Court provides a definitive ruling on pregnancy non-discrimination and accommodation obligations, employers would be prudent to act in conformance with the EEOC Guidance.

The EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues explains the EEOC’s position on employers’ obligations in relation to pregnancy under the PDA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended (“ADA”), the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), and various other laws. According to the Guidance, pregnancy-related obligations apply to employees who currently are pregnant, who have been pregnant in the past, who intend to become pregnant, or who merely potentially may become pregnant.

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