A Pregnant Pause: Using ADR to Resolve Pregnancy-Related Workplace Issues

by Lorraine Brennan
June 2015

JAMS ADR Blog by Chris Poole

Lorraine Brennan

A recent case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, Young v. UPS (issued March 25, 2015), caught the attention of many women and employers as well.  In Young, the Court interpreted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), in particular the second clause of that Act, which reads that employers must treat “women affected by pregnancy…the same for all employment-related purposes…as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”

Young, a part-time driver for UPS, had suffered several miscarriages prior to the pregnancy at issue in this case.  She was told by her doctor that she could lift only 20 pounds during the first 20 weeks of her pregnancy, and then only 10 pounds until the pregnancy was over.  UPS advised Young that she was not to return to work at UPS until she could lift the required 70 pounds that her particular job required.  Young subsequently exhausted all of her Family and Medical Leave Act time, took an unpaid leave of absence and eventually exhausted all of her medical benefits.  After her child was born, she returned to work and filed a lawsuit against UPS.

Young sued UPS under the theory that the PDA was violated when UPS refused to allow Young to be given limited physical activities, as was the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was amended in 1978 to include the PDA.  She maintained that she was entitled to the same accommodation as other employees who had workplace restrictions due to injury or disability.

Young lost at both the District Court level and the Court of Appeals (4th Cir.), as the lower courts ruled that Young’s situation was not comparable to the situations of workers in those protected groups and granted summary judgment to UPS.  The Supreme Court granted cert. and vacated and remanded the case, remarking that Young had raised triable issues of fact that made the granting on summary judgment for UPS in this case inappropriate.

While the Young decision was limited to the issue of the UPS policy, it is not difficult to see how pregnant employees might use this holding in other workplace situations.  What the Young decision did is provide a vehicle for pregnant employees to challenge workplace accommodation policies under the PDA, which are afforded to other workers but not to pregnant ones.  Employers will need to take a careful look at their policies to make sure they are in compliance and that pregnant employees are not negatively impacted by discriminatory policies.

For more on Ms. Brennan’s discussion, please read the full article, “A Pregnant Pause: Using ADR to Resolve Pregnancy-Related Workplace Issues,” from Law.com.


Lorraine M. Brennan is an accomplished national and international dispute resolution professional.  She is prominently recognized and respected for her broad range of professional experience involving complex commercial litigation, domestic and international arbitration and mediation, and her service as a distinguished global member of law school faculties from the United States to China.  Ms. Brennan is a highly sought-after speaker and frequent lecturer on complex commercial dispute resolution. She maintains prominent leadership roles in multiple organizations, including ArbitralWomen, the International and Dispute Resolution Sections of the American Bar Association and the Institute for Transnational Arbitration (Member of Advisory Board).  Ms. Brennan is one of only eight members appointed by the U.S. State Department to serve on the NAFTA 2022 Advisory Committee on Private Commercial Disputes.  She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. She is proficient in French.

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Website: www.jamsadr.com/brennan/

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