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Media Alerts - Legg et al. v. Ulster County et al.
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April 27, 2016
  Legg et al. v. Ulster County et al.
Headline: Second Circuit, Applying New Supreme Court Precedent, Reinstates Pregnancy Discrimination Claim Against Ulster County

Area of Law: Labor and Employment

Issue Presented: Whether an employer's policy allowing "light duty" assignments only for employees injured on the job can qualify as pregnancy discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978

Brief Summary: Ann Marie Legg, a corrections officer at the Ulster County Jail, became pregnant. Her doctor deemed her pregnancy high-risk and recommended that she be in a "light duty" position that avoided direct contact with inmates. However, her supervisor refused to officially place her in a light-duty position, based on a workplace policy of only providing light-duty assignments for work-related injuries or illnesses. Ultimately, after a major health care due to a physical brush with an inmate, Legg was forced to take time off until after she gave birth. Legg then sued the County and several officials in the Northern District of New York, alleging that the denial of her request for an accommodation amounted to pregnancy discrimination in violation of Title VII. The district court ultimately rejected her claim, concluding that the policy of only providing light-duty work to employees injured on the job did not amount to pregnancy discrimination because it "applied across the board to everyone." Legg appealed, and before her case was decided, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., in which it held that a facially neutral policy can indeed amount to pregnancy discrimination in certain circumstances. The Second Circuit applied this new precedent to Legg's case, and concluded that she had adduced enough evidence to satisfy this standard and have her claims heard by a jury. Accordingly, it vacated the dismissal of her case and remanded it for trial.

To read the full opinion, please visit: http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/de...b369a494985/2/hilite/

Extended Summary: Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employment discrimination based on a person's sex is prohibited. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended Title VII to make clear that sex discrimination includes pregnancy discrimination, and that "women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions are to be treated the same as others not affected, but similar in their abilities to work." In 2015, the Supreme Court decided Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 1338 (2015), which held that an employer's facially neutral accommodation policy can give 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.

In Young, which had facts similar to Legg's case, UPS refused to accommodate a pregnant mail carrier's request for a "light-duty" position. There, the employee was responsible for moving packages weighing up to seventy pounds, but her doctor had recommended she lift nothing heavier than twenty pounds during her pregnancy. UPS refused to accommodate her, however, explaining that it only offered "light-duty" accommodations to employees who had been injured on the job, lost certification, or suffered from a disability. The Supreme Court ultimately rejected UPS's argument that this sort of facially neutral accommodations policy could never amount to pregnancy discrimination. Instead, the Supreme Court explained that such facially neutral policies can qualify as pregnancy discrimination if they impose a significant burden on pregnant employees that is not justified by the employer's non-discriminatory explanation.

The Supreme Court further articulated the framework that courts should use in analyzing these sorts of cases. First, the plaintiff must show that she was pregnant and sought accommodation, that the employer did not accommodate her, and that the employer did accommodate others who were similar in their inability to work. Once the plaintiff makes this showing, the employer must articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its action--such as a facially neutral accommodations policy. At that point, the employee must show that the real reason for the policy is discrimination. The Court added that a pregnant employee can make this showing by presenting "sufficient evidence that the employer's policies impose a significant burden on pregnant employers, and that the employer's legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons are not sufficiently strong to justify the burden." One way to prove that the policy imposes a significant burden on pregnant employees is to show that it accommodates a larger percentage of nonpregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers.

The Second Circuit applied this new framework to Legg's case, and concluded that under Young, she had enough evidence to go to a jury, and that judgment as a matter of law was inappropriate. First, Legg had proved that she sought a light duty accommodation while she was pregnant, and the County did not accommodate her, even though the county did provide light duty accommodations to other employees with a similar ability or inability to work. Next, the county had articulated a legitimate, non-discriminatory justification for its policy-- that under New York State law, municipalities are required to pay corrections officers injured on the job, but not other employees who are unable to work for other reasons. Thus, the burden shifted back to Legg to show pretext. Here, the Second Circuit concluded that a reasonable jury could find that Legg provided enough evidence to prove this justification was a pretext. The court noted that there were inconsistencies in the various officers' explanations of the accommodations policy, and had barely mentioned the above justification at trial. Moreover, the evidence clearly indicated that the policy accommodated a larger percentage of nonpregnant workers than pregnant workers, given that no pregnant employees were eligible for accommodation under the policy. The court noted that a jury would not have to rule for Legg on remand, but that she was certainly entitled to have these issues decided by a jury.

To read the full opinion, please visit: http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/de...b369a494985/2/hilite/

Panel: Circuit Judges Parker, Lynch, and Carney

Argument Date: 10/8/2016

Date of Issued Opinion: 4/26/2016

Docket Numbers: 14-3636 (L), 14-3638 (XAP), 14-4635 (CON)

Decided: Vacated and remanded.

Case Alert Author: Ryan Koleda

Counsel: Stephen Bergstein, Bergstein & Ullrich, LLP, Chester, New York; Brendan Klaproth, Klaproth Law PLLC, Washington, D.C.; and Joseph Ranni, Ranni Law Offices, Florida, New York, for Plaintiff-Appellant and Plaintiff-Cross Appellee.
Matthew J. Kelly (Amanda Davis Twinam, on the brief), Roemer Wallens Gold & Mineaux LLP, Albany, New York, for Defendants-Appellees-Cross-Appellants.

Author of Opinion: Judge Parker

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Emily Gold Waldman

    Posted By: Emily Waldman @ 04/27/2016 02:06 PM     2nd Circuit  

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