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Bills Establishing Protections for Pregnant Workers Gain Approval

On Tuesday, March 14, the New Mexico House approved a bill to establish workplace protections for pregnant workers. Specifically, the bill would require employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant workers. The Vermont House also gave preliminary approval to a similar bill that would require an employer to reasonably accommodate a worker’s condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, unless the employer could prove that accommodating the request would be an “undue hardship.”

Representatives who advocated for the bills both cited Young v. UPS, a U.S. Supreme Court case where a woman who worked for UPS was fired after asking to lift a lighter load while she was pregnant. UPS argued that their policies were “pregnancy neutral” and that they offered accommodations for only three classes of workers: those injured on the job, those who lost their Department of Transportation driving certification, and those who have a disability under the ADA. As Ms. Young did not meet these criteria, she was forced to take an unpaid leave of absence without health benefits.

The Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower court and enumerated a new test for determining whether an employee was discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy: “A plaintiff alleging that the denial of an accommodation constituted disparate treatment under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act’s second clause may make out a prima facie case by showing, as in McDonnell Douglas, that she belongs to the protected class, that she sought accommodation, that the employer did not accommodate her, and that the employer did accommodate others ‘similar in their ability or inability to work.’” The employer can come back and show it had “legitimate, non­discriminatory reasons for denying her accommodation… [and] consistent with the Act’s basic objective, that reason normally cannot consist simply of a claim that it is more expensive or less convenient to add pregnant women to the category of those (‘similar in their ability or inability to work’) whom the employer accommodates.”

Representative Helen Head in the Vermont House argued that the Vermont law is required because Young v. UPS held that pregnant workers are not entitled to the same reasonable accommodations that disabled workers are. Although the Supreme Court decision was a step in the right direction towards protecting the rights of pregnant workers, state laws are required to provide additional protection.

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