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Fighting for Fair Treatment for Pregnant Women – the Young vs. UPS case!

Supreme Court Building

In an important pregnancy discrimination case the Supreme Court this week heard oral arguments in a case where a worker lost wages and benefits because she was pregnant.

About Young vs. UPS

When Peggy Young, a driver at UPS, became pregnant, her doctor recommended that she stop lifting heavy objects, so she requested that UPS accommodate her health needs during the temporary disability from her pregnancy.

Instead, UPS put Young on unpaid leave which meant that in addition to losing her wages for months, she also lost her health benefits, her pension, and her disability benefits. Young sued under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, arguing that UPS was legally obligated to grant her accommodations similar to those granted to other employees who were unable to perform various duties because of on-the-job injuries, temporarily losing their driving certification, or a disability.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was passed by Congress in response to a previous Supreme Court case, Gilbert v. General Electric, which held that discrimination based on pregnancy was not discrimination based on sex and not prohibited under Title VII.  It would be nice if the Supreme Court back in 1976 had held that discrimination based on pregnancy IS sex discrimination. However, instead of recognizing the reality that only women get pregnant, SCOTUS held that discrimination based on pregnancy is discrimination between pregnant persons and non-pregnant person (ok), as opposed to discrimination between men and women (not ok).

Although PDA remedies part of the problem caused by Gilbert, because it still requires a comparison between pregnant and non-pregnant persons: “women affected by pregnancy” must be treated the same “as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”  This requirement unfortunately has been interpreted narrowly to limit the accommodations employers must offer to pregnant women on the basis that those accommodations are not offered to all other workers.

How did the Arguments go?

As reported by RH Reality Check, the Supreme Court Appears Baffled by How to Accommodate Pregnant Workers.

"True to form, Justice Antonin Scalia argued that Peggy Young and other advocates were seeking a “most-favored nation treatment”—referring to the term used in international trade to denote a high status—for pregnant employees by requiring employers to make accommodations for them they wouldn’t have to make for other employees. Thankfully Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, back on the bench following emergency heart surgery, was there to respond that UPS’s policy would leave pregnant workers with the “least-favored nation” status."

-Read the full RH Reality Check article.

What’s Next?

Women should not be forced to choose between their job and their health. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was written to ensure that women like Peggy Young do not have to drop out of the workforce each time they become pregnant!

Minimizing the obligations imposed by the PDA would undermine the advancement pregnant women have made toward equal rights over the past 40 years. The Court should rule in favor of Peggy Young and safeguard the equal opportunity of pregnant women in the workplace.

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