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Young v. United Parcel Service, No. 11-2078

Decided:  January 9, 2013

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to United Parcel Service (UPS), Young’s employer, regarding claims of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) when Young was unable to continue working during her pregnancy.

Peggy Young started working for UPS in 1999 and started driving a delivery truck in 2002.  She held a part-time, early morning driver position by 2006 and throughout the relevant time period.  In 2006, Young was granted a leave of absence to try a third round of in vitro fertilization after two failed attempts.  When Young became pregnant, her doctor provided a note stipulating that she should not lift more than twenty pounds for the first twenty weeks of pregnancy and not more than ten pounds thereafter.  Martin, UPS’s occupational health manager, informed Young that UPS policy would not permit her to continue working with a twenty-pound lifting restriction because the job requires being able to lift up to seventy pounds.  Martin also concluded that Young was ineligible for a light duty assignment.  Young used the remainder of the leave provided by the Family Medical Leave Act and went on an extended leave of absence receiving no pay and losing her medical coverage.  Sometime after she gave birth she returned to work.

Young sought damages for sex and race discrimination under Title VII and for disability discrimination under the ADA.  She voluntarily dismissed her race discrimination claim.  UPS moved for summary judgment after eighteen months of discovery, and the district court granted its motion.  Young claimed that UPS impermissibly regarded her as disabled in violation of the ADA, and she contended that UPS discriminated against her in violation of the PDA.  A “regarded as” disabled claim under the ADA “includes the circumstance when the employer ‘mistakenly believes that an actual, non-limiting impairment substantially limits one or more life activities.’”  Young alleged that UPS considered her pregnancy-related work limitations as a disability.  However, because UPS did have objective evidence that she was unable to perform some of her central job functions and the “relatively manageable” weight restriction and short duration, the court concluded there was no evidence that Young’s pregnancy or lifting restrictions constituted a disability within the ADA.

Young’s claim under the PDA stemmed from a UPS policy which entitled workers who were injured on-the-job, disabled within the meaning of the ADA, or who lost their DOT certification to light duty work, but did not allow pregnant workers to qualify for light duty work.  Young, and an amicus brief from the ACLU, argued that the PDA requires employers to treat all employees the same and that Young should have been entitled to light duty work because it was made available to other workers.  The court rejected this claim reasoning that interpreting the PDA would require employers to provide accommodation or light duty work to a pregnant worker whose restrictions arise from her pregnancy while denying any such accommodation to an employee unable to lift as a result of an off-the-job injury.  The court concluded that this result was contrary to the legislative intent of the PDA and held that when a policy treats pregnant and nonpregnant workers alike, the employer has complied with the PDA.

The court also concluded that Young failed to make out a prima facie case under the McDonnell Douglas burden shifting framework.  Young met the first three elements by showing that she was a member of the protected class, raised a genuine issue of material fact regarding her satisfactory job performance, and she suffered an adverse employment action when she could not continue work.  However, she failed to produce evidence that similarly-situated employees outside the protected class received more favorable treatment.  The court reasoned that a pregnant worker is not similar in ability or inability to work to an employee who is disabled under the ADA or prevented from driving a truck because the worker lost his or her DOT certification.  Therefore, according to the court, while the UPS policy may be characterized as “insufficiently charitable,” Young cannot establish a claim for discriminatory animus directed at a protected class of employees.

Full Opinion

-Jennifer B. Routh