Supreme Court to Consider Two Issues Important to Employers: Pregnancy Discrimination and EEOC Conciliation Prior To Suing

U.S. Supreme Court May Clarify Employer's Obligations to Accommodate 
Pregnant Workers

On July 1, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a former United Parcel Service, Inc. employee's lawsuit alleging pregnancy discrimination and address her employer's obligations to accommodate her. This case will give the U.S. Supreme Court a chance to clarify what obligations employers have, if any, to accommodate pregnant workers.

The Court agreed to review a decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in January 2013, which held that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA") does not require employers to provide pregnant workers with preferential treatment. Specifically, the Court of Appeals held that the PDA does not require employers to provide more favorable treatment to pregnant workers as compared to other "similarly situated" employees. The Court held that UPS did not have to offer the pregnant employee special accommodations so that she could continue working "light duty" during her pregnancy. As a result, the plaintiff was required to take an unpaid leave of absence. This case is somewhat unique because UPS had a policy that allowed light duty for disabled workers and those who sustained work-related injuries. The Plaintiff, however, did not qualify for light duty work under either of those policies.

Any guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court will be helpful in assisting employers on how to manage pregnant employees who have restrictions on their ability to perform their jobs during their pregnancies.

The Court will Address the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Obligations to Conciliate Prior to Bringing a Lawsuit

The U.S. Supreme Court also agreed to consider "whether and to what extent may a court enforce the EEOC's mandatory duty to conciliate discrimination claims before filing suit?" In this case, Mach Mining LLC requested the the Supreme Court resolve the conflict among the Circuit Courts of Appeals over whether the EEOC's conciliation efforts may be reviewed by the courts and, if so, to determine the proper standard of review. Title VII, the federal law prohibiting discrimination based on protected status, requires the EEOC to engage in conciliation efforts before filing a lawsuit. Many employers have argued that the EEOC fails to engage in meaningful conciliation, often making a demand and refusing to negotiate or otherwise engage in discussions with respect to the demand.

The EEOC takes the position that its conciliation efforts during the administrative proceedings are not judicially reviewable and are not an affirmative defense available to employers against the agency when a lawsuit is filed. Employers generally take the position that the EEOC's conciliation efforts are reviewable by the courts.

Both the EEOC and the employers are supportive of the U.S. Supreme Court's consideration of this case, because both believe guidance on this issue is necessary.

If you have any questions regarding the issues addressed in this Client Alert, please contact a member of Walter | Haverfield's Labor and Employment Services group.