Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2016

Abstract

For over twenty years, the federal courts of appeals have been divided over the extent to which the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers to offer light-duty or other work accommodations to pregnant employees. The division between circuits centers on the interpretation of the language in the second clause of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act mandating that employers “shall” treat pregnant employees “the same... as other persons... similar in their ability or inability to work.” Four circuits interpreted this clause to merely explain the first clause, thereby refusing to enforce any significant obligation on employers to accommodate pregnancy-related physical limitations, even when they offer accommodations to nonpregnant employees. In contrast, three circuits interpreted this clause to have independent meaning and to provide pregnant women with a right to comparative accommodation if their employer provides accommodations for nonpregnant employees with similar physical limitations. In March of 2015, the Supreme Court rejected both of these interpretations and instead attempted to fashion a compromise based on the creation of a novel framework that it confined to claims brought under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. While the Court’s decision may allow greater access to light-duty positions for some pregnant employees, its new framework creates significant uncertainty by imposing ambiguous and burdensome requirements on pregnant employees seeking accommodation under the statute. This Article concludes that the limitations of the Court’s decision may outweigh its benefits to pregnant employees. Given the inherent complexity of the Court’s new approach, congressional reform is needed to provide pregnant employees with a clear entitlement to accommodation of pregnancy-related medical conditions.

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