by Emily J.Martin, National Women’s Law Center
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court delivered an important victory for pregnant workers, when in a 6-3 ruling it revived Peggy Young’s pregnancy discrimination case against UPS and sent it back to the lower courts for further proceedings. In so ruling, the Supreme Court declined UPS’s invitation to read a key piece of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act completely out of the statute books. This decision should put employers on notice that when they exclude pregnant workers with medical needs from accommodations that they make for workers with disabilities or injuries, they do so at their legal peril. Nevertheless, the Court’s decision also requires a somewhat unpredictable and fact-intensive analysis of these sorts of pregnancy discrimination claims. As a result, individual pregnant women may still face real uncertainty as to their workplace rights, and individual employers may choose to take their chances in litigation rather than promptly providing accommodations to women who need them. Congress should act now to affirm and strengthen this decision, to ensure that no pregnant woman is forced to choose between her job and the health of her pregnancy.
Peggy Young’s case arose more than seven years ago, when she became pregnant while working as a UPS driver. Her doctor recommended that she avoid lifting more than 20 pounds during her pregnancy. When UPS learned of this restriction, it refused to let her continue to do her job, even though in fact she only rarely did any heavy lifting. UPS also refused to give her a light duty assignment, even though it provided such accommodations to drivers with on-the-job injuries, drivers with disabilities as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act, and drivers who had lost their commercial driver’s licenses for health reasons or other reasons—including DUI convictions. As a result, Peggy Young was forced onto unpaid leave for the duration of her pregnancy, and lost her UPS-provided health insurance. She sued, arguing that UPS had violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) when it refused to provide her the same sorts of accommodations it provided to others. But despite the clear language of the PDA requiring employers to treat pregnant workers the same as those “similar in ability or inability to work,” she lost in the lower courts, which held that UPS’s accommodation rules were “pregnancy blind” and thus did not violate the law.