If a business already accommodates workers who have temporary disabilities, they can’t refuse to accommodate a pregnant employee. And they can’t use cost as an excuse.
That’s essentially what the U.S. Supreme Court decided Wednesday, with a 6-3 vote, in the case of Young v. UPS. The facts of the case follow, as presented by Justice Stephen Breyer in his majority opinion:
The petitioner, Peggy Young, worked as a part-time driver for the respondent, United Parcel Service (UPS). Her responsibilities included pickup and delivery of packages that had arrived by air carrier the previous night. In 2006, after suffering several miscarriages, she became pregnant. Her doctor told her that she should not lift more than 20 pounds during the first 20 weeks of her pregnancy or more than 10 pounds thereafter. UPS required drivers like Young to be able to lift parcels weighing up to 70 pounds (and up to 150 pounds with assistance). UPS told Young she could not work while under a lifting restriction. Young consequently stayed home without pay during most of the time she was pregnant and eventually lost her employee medical coverage.
Young filed a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2007, then sued the company the next year. She lost in court, and on appeal lost in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in 2013. The Supremes have “vacated” that judgement.
The justices did not choose to define pregnancy discrimination as sex discrimination, but instead looked at discrimination against pregnant women as discrimination against disabled workers, writing, “…an employer may not distinguish between pregnant women and others of similar ability or inability because of pregnancy. Here, that means pregnant women are entitled to accommodations on the same terms as other workers with disabling conditions.”
Said Lenora Lapidus, director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project,
Today’s Supreme Court decision is an important victory for Peggy Young, and for many other pregnant workers, because it makes clear that employers can’t continue pushing pregnant workers out of their jobs while providing accommodations for other, non-pregnant workers. Nonetheless, Congress should pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which will further enshrine the principle that pregnant workers should not have to choose between their jobs and a healthy pregnancy.
Interestingly, UPS began offering lighter work to pregnant drivers on its own volition this past January 1.
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