Second Circuit Reinstates Pregnancy Discrimination Claim in Light of Young v. UPS

This week, in Legg v. Ulster Cty., No. 14-3636, 2016 WL 1637993 (2d Cir. Apr. 26, 2016), the Second Circuit reinstated a pregnancy discrimination claim brought by an Ulster County Corrections Officer.

Plaintiff argued that the defendant County “unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of her pregnancy when it denied her request for an accommodation under its light duty policy, pursuant to which only employees injured on the job were eligible for light duty assignments.” The district court granted defendants’ motion for judgment as a matter of law at the close of plaintiff’s case, “reasoning that the policy could not be discriminatory because it was facially neutral with respect to pregnancy.”

While the appeal was pending, the Supreme Court decided Young v. UPS, 135 S.Ct. 1338, 191 L.Ed.2d 279 (2015), which “held that an employer’s facially neutral accommodation policy gives rise to an inference of pregnancy discrimination if it imposes a significant burden on pregnant employees that is not justified by the employer’s non-discriminatory explanation.” (I wrote about the Young decision here.)

The Second Circuit concluded that plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to support a pregnancy discrimination claim under Young, and therefore vacated the judgment (in part) and remanded with instructions to conduct a new trial.

While plaintiff did not present direct evidence of discriminatory intent, she

established a prima facie case of discrimination under Young. She sought a light duty accommodation while pregnant. The County did not accommodate her. And, as a matter of policy, the County provided light duty accommodations to other employees who were similar in their ability or inability to work, namely, those who were unable to perform non-light-duty tasks as a result of injuries incurred on-duty. These facts are enough, if left unexplained, for a reasonable jury to conclude that it is more likely than not that the policy was motivated by a discriminatory intent.

The County presented evidence of a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory” reason for providing benefits to employees injured on the job but not pregnant employees – namely, New York General Municipal Law § 207–c(1), which requires municipalities to continue to pay corrections officers injured on the job but does not require the same for employees who become unable to work for other reasons.

The burden then shifted to plaintiff “to show by a preponderance of the evidence that this justification was a pretext for intentional discrimination.”

Plaintiff met this burden by presenting evidence of, for example, defendants’ “several different justifications for declining to extend light duty accommodations to pregnant employees and for denying [plaintiff]’s request” and “that the defendants imposed a significant burden on pregnant employees because, like UPS [the defendant in the Young case] the County categorically denied light duty accommodations to pregnant women.”

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