Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Pregnant Workers

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Peggy Young (left), a former UPS driver. Photo: Susan Walsh/Corbis

In a victory for pregnant women and those who care about them, the Supreme Court ruled today that pregnant workers are entitled to the same kind of workplace accommodations given to similarly restricted workers. The case centered on former UPS driver Peggy Young. After four years on the job, Young became pregnant in 2006. Her light-duty request was denied by the company, despite a doctor’s note, because her pregnancy wasn’t the result of an on-the-job injury or a disability recognized by federal law. She was given the choice either to continue working without any accommodations — which meant lifting boxes as heavy as 70 pounds — or take an unpaid leave and lose her health insurance. She took an unpaid leave for the duration of her pregnancy, forfeiting wages and insurance.

In a 6–3 ruling, the court said that Young should at least be given a chance to make her case in court — in contrast to two lower courts, who didn’t find the company’s policy in violation of the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The court did not say pregnancy necessitates light work, but that a company couldn’t deny a pregnant woman accommodations it’s made to other workers. In doing so, UPS may have violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which mandates pregnant workers receive treatment equal to those who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.”

Young left UPS in 2009; she is seeking back pay and benefits. Just this year, UPS changed its policy to provide pregnant workers with the type of disability accommodation Young sought. Women’s rights organizations have hailed the court ruling as a victory, but the ruling isn’t as definite as they’d like — UPS has also claimed partial victory, since the court “rejected the argument that UPS's pregnancy-neutral policy was inherently discriminatory,” according to the company. A lower court must now reexamine Young’s case with a broader understanding of the discrimination claim.

Nationally, 60 percent of women who give birth have been employed during the previous year, making today’s ruling a critical step in protecting their rights and safety as workers.