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Second Circuit Rejects Light Duty Program Limited to Job-Related Injuries

    Client Alerts
  • June 14, 2016

In last year’s Young decision, the U.S. Supreme Court found that an employer could not exclude pregnant employees from participation in a light duty work program absent demonstration of significant burdens that would result by opening participation to such employees. In a recent post-Young decision, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an employer’s contention that Young’s reasoning did not apply to a light duty program limited to employees who suffered on-the-job injuries.

In Legg v. Ulster City, the plaintiff was a correctional facility employee who was placed on medical restrictions due to her pregnancy. The employer rejected her request for temporary reassignment based on the fact that its light duty program was limited to employees who suffered workplace injuries. The case was decided pre-Young, but during the appeal, the plaintiff sought a new trial based on that decision.

The Second Circuit agreed, remanding the suit for a new trial. The court rejected the employer’s contention that Young’s reasoning does not apply to a situation where the employer has a Workers’ Compensation-only light duty program. The employer in Young allowed other employees to participate in its program, including those who had failed DOT drug tests. The employer noted that state law required it to provide this alternative work to injured employees, and therefore, opening it to others would place a significant burden on the city.

The Second Circuit rejected this reasoning, finding no conclusive evidence that such burden existed. The court also noted that the city had offered multiple reasons for its decision to exclude the plaintiff from light duty, raising a jury question over its true motivation for this reasoning.

Based on this outcome, it is difficult to come up with evidence of a substantial burden that would justify employers from excluding pregnant employees from a light duty program. Also, the Second Circuit’s rejection of a Workers’ Compensation-only policy as justification for this distinction raises the question whether similar reasoning would apply to an ADA claim brought by a disabled employee who suffers from a non-work-related medical condition.