News & Insights

Eleventh Circuit To Clarify 2015 Supreme Court Ruling In Upcoming Pregnancy Bias Case

In February of 2019, a team of lawyers from the ACLU filed an opening brief in a new Eleventh Circuit pregnancy bias action. This new action involves an Alabama EMT named Kimberlie Durham (“Ms. Durham”), who has sued her company for alleged pregnancy discrimination. She alleges that her employer did not assign her to a less strenuous job during her pregnancy. Her work duties required her to carry equipment, including stretchers, even though her doctor said she should not lift anything more than 50 pounds. Ms. Durham argues that her employer’s policy discriminates against pregnant women because the company allows light-duty reassignments to employees injured on the job, but not to expecting mothers.

Ms. Durham originally filed suit in an Alabama District Court, where a federal judge ruled against Durham. She is now appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. This case will test the scope of a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court Decision, Young v. United Parcel Service, which put in place the requirements of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

In Young, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Plaintiff and stated a standard where employers are to make accommodations for pregnant employees to the same extent they do for their nonpregnant coworkers who have a similar ability or inability to work. However, the justices did not clearly tell employers when they are required to provide light duty to an employee.

In the ACLU’s opening brief, they contend the trial judge misapplied the Supreme Court’s ruling, stating “under its reasoning, Young might as well never have been decided.” Civil rights groups and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Council (“EEOC”) are backing Ms. Durham in her appeal as friends of the court. They are also claiming that the trial judge’s ruling runs counter to the decision made in Young.

The Eleventh Circuit’s holding in this case will represent a shift in analysis of all Pregnancy Discrimination cases. The result of this case will provide guidance when employers are to provide light duty reassignments to their pregnant employees. Employers should consult with their attorney prior to taking any action regarding accommodations under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.