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Pregnancy Discrimination Caselaw Update

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

If you have been treated unfairly at work, you may be wondering whether you have a claim. Every case is different and it is best to consult with an attorney about the specific facts of your situation. However, it is sometimes helpful to read about other cases because they can illustrate some of the ways in which the law protects Illinois employees from discrimination. I am particularly interested in pregnancy discrimination cases and below are some summaries of recent cases in Illinois and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court Clarifies The Pregnancy Discrimination Act’s Language

In March 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case called Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. In that case, the court interpreted the language of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Young was a part-time driver for UPS. After Young became pregnant, her doctor told her she should not lift more than 20 pounds. Young and other UPS drivers were required to be able to lift 70 pounds. UPS failed to accommodate Young’s pregnancy-related lifting restriction and told her that, while under the lifting restriction, she could not work.

In contrast to UPS’s failure to accommodate Young for her workplace restriction, UPS had previously accommodated workers who had work restrictions similar to Young’s, including those who were injured on the job or had disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Young argued that UPS’s policies, which afforded a light-duty-for-injury option to other persons but not pregnant workers, were discriminatory and violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act states as follows:

“Women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions

shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes . . . as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”

In interpreting the Act’s language, the Supreme Court ruled that a pregnant worker can make a case by showing (1) that she belongs to the protected class; (2) that she sought accommodation; (3) that her employer did not accommodate her; and (4) that her employer did accommodate others similar in their ability or inability to work.

Peggy Young’s attorney, who was my employment discrimination professor in law school, reached a wonderful result in this case, which is a step forward in protecting women’s rights in the workplace.

Former Administrative Assistant Sues Real Estate Broker For Pregnancy Discrimination In Illinois Federal Court

In Illinois federal court, a former administrative agent, Elizabeth Leone, sued a real estate broker for pregnancy discrimination in a case called Leone v. Naperville Professionals, Inc. While working for Naperville Professionals, Leone notified her supervisor that she would need three months’ leave for the birth of her son. Before taking maternity leave, Leone suffered from hyperemesis, a pregnancy-related condition characterized by severe nausea, vomiting and weight loss. Doctors prescribed her bedrest and she missed work.

Upon Leone’s return to work and prior to taking maternity leave, her employer assigned her less responsibility on a lucrative account and, as a result, she lost opportunities for commissions. Leone then took maternity leave and, when she returned to work, was fired. Naperville Professionals replaced Leone with a new assistant who was not pregnant and was not a new mother. Leone sued Naperville Professionals under federal pregnancy discrimination laws.

Former Guest Services Representative Sues Holiday Inn Express Corporate Owner for Pregnancy Discrimination In Illinois Federal Court

In another recent Illinois federal case, a former guest services representative, Bogustawa Frey, sued the corporate owner of a Holiday Inn Express in Algonquin in a case called Frey v. Coleman. Frey sued under several theories of discrimination, including state and federal pregnancy discrimination laws.

Regarding her pregnancy discrimination claims, while working as a guest services representative for the company, Frey told her supervisor that she was pregnant. The company then cut Frey’s hours, declined her the promotion that it had promised her and moved her to the night shift without giving her the pay raise normally associated with that move. The company also disregarded Frey’s requests for accommodations for her pregnancy-related conditions, including swollen ankles and back pain. 

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