Implications: Workplace Pregnancy and The Supreme Court

Peggy Young worked for UPS in Landover, Md. and became pregnant in 2006. She told her supervisors that her doctor had recommended she not lift packages heavier than 20 pounds and later in her pregnancy, 10 pounds. Her request for lighter duty was turned down because it was inconsistent with UPS policy.

Young took an unpaid leave from work, during which time she did not receive medical benefits. She returned after the birth of her daughter, Triniti. She later filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and then sued in federal court which heard arguments yesterday. She says the company denied her accommodations that non-pregnant workers receive. The case presents the court with questions about a change in the American workplace and how far government and private businesses will go to accommodate the needs of an increasing number of women who work through their pregnancies and serve as the breadwinners for their families.

Much attention was given to detailed questions about punctuation and ambiguous language in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA). Young said the UPS policy ignored it by denying her request while offering temporary work assignments to those who suffered injuries while on the job and other rulings regarding employees with certain disabilities. Caitlin J. Halligan, the New York lawyer representing UPS, said the act “sets a floor. That floor is that you can’t single out pregnancy for adverse treatment.” Young then pointed out the PDA says that sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of “pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions” and directs employers to treat pregnant employees the same “as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”

One justice said Young’s argument could amount to granting pregnant workers “most favored nations” status, meaning the company would have to match benefits that any worker received, even those based on seniority or rank in the company.

It was unclear from the court’s questioning exactly how the case will come out.

To read the court transcript regarding interpretation to the PDA, click here


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