Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Gender Discrimination or Not?

My last post on breaking rules generated a huge buzz on three different Linked In groups.  That is always very rewarding, althoughI suspect it is more the controversial topic rather than my riveting eloquence. 

And then karma struck and two big cases revolving around inappropriate rules hit the news cycle, giving me a chance to strike again, while the iron is still hot.

The first one is a simple rule at UPS.  Drivers need to be able to lift up to 70 lbs.  While ergonomists may dispute the weight limit for safety reasons, this is a very common rule for manual laborers in industry.  I have seen similar rules in factories, hospitality, and plenty of other industries.  Workers Comp laws mandate that if a person is injured on the job, they have to be accommodated until they heal.  But if something happens outside of work and they can no longer lift that much, they can be let go.  UPS has previous fired employees who were hurt in non-work car crashes, sports injuries, and similar kinds of episodes. 

But in this case, a pregnant worker has a note from her doctor that she shouldn’t lift more than 20 pounds.  Pregnancy is clearly an outside of work cause.  So she was let go.  She sued, claiming that this was gender discrimination.  Obviously, men can’t get pregnant.  And furthermore, her job only requires lifting more than 20 pounds a few times a month and a co-worker offered to help in these cases.

But UPS countered that the rule doesn’t target pregnant workers, it targets all incidents and therefore both genders.  Pregnancy just happens to get caught up in the rule.  This is not gender discrimination at all.  And to allow an exception just because a co-worker offered to help sets a bad precedent for future cases so they can’t let that change their decision.  The Supreme Court has been asked to decide.

My Take

IMHO, it is stupid that UPS has this rule in the first place.  It is much cheaper to accommodate workers with short term limitations than it is to hire and train a new worker. Even more so because a co-worker offered to help, so the accommodation is already figured out.  But there is no law against stupidity so that doesn’t apply to the Supreme Court’s deliberations.  There is also some precedent that if a lifting minimum doesn’t legitimately apply to the job, it shouldn’t be allowed.  But that would have been litigated in the previous episodes so that doesn’t seem to apply here either.  Given these two factors, I think UPS has the better legal case, even though they are making a bad business decision.

Your Turn

Since this has already gone long, I will save the second example for my next post.  For now, I am interested to hear other opinions.  Am I missing a legal justification for the pregnant plaintiff to win? 

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