Pregnant workers treated worse than drunk drivers? Discrimination case goes to Supreme Court
Workplace discrimination, in one form or another, is, unfortunately, a common occurrence for women in the workforce today. The most recent case to make national headlines involves former United Parcel Service driver Peggy Young, who will take her pregnancy discrimination case to the Supreme Court later this week.
When Young, a resident of Maryland, became pregnant with her third child, she was instructed by her doctor not to lift more than 20 lbs. She requested light duty assignment, as was offered to her company’s employees who had been injured on the job or affected by other types of disability and work restrictions. Young was denied, and placed on unpaid leave. She lost her health benefits and seven months of wages. Young sued her employer for pregnancy discrimination, arguing that she should be eligible for the same accommodations afforded to non-pregnant employees with similar limitations. She lost twice, but the Supreme Court will hear her case on Wednesday, December 3.
Young sued under federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which states that,
…women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same … as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.
UPS initially won in court, as Young was unable to prove that her employer discriminated against her because of her pregnancy. According to the New York Times, the company maintained that their policy, though not “charitable,” was lawful and that they have no legal obligation to offer accommodation to pregnant employees. Their policy only applied to workers who were injured at work, or who were covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, or who had his/her driver’s license suspended and could not drive.
That’s right – under this policy, an employee convicted of drunk driving and therefore unable to drive his/her delivery vehicle would be entitled to benefits, while a pregnant woman unable to lift heavy loads would not. As you can imagine, this seemed wrong to Young, and to many others.
UPS has since changed its policy and will begin offering light duty assignment to pregnant workers starting in January of 2015.
Young’s case puts the spotlight on how women’s roles in the workforce have changed in recent decades, and employment laws have not yet caught up. Women are the primary breadwinners in 40% of households with children. About 65% of women work during their first pregnancy, and many are remaining at work longer in their pregnancies and returning sooner after giving birth, according to The Washington Post. The need for accommodations or duty-modifications applies mainly to women working lower-wage jobs that require some amount of physical labor or prolonged standing.
Even more amazing is the fact that Young has gained support from both ends of the political spectrum. While cases involving women’s rights tend to pit the political left and right against each other, this case has united groups from both the left and right in support of Peggy Young. On one hand, women’s rights groups are concerned with female workers not being forced from their jobs or forced to choose between a job and having a child. And, on the other hand, pro-life groups are concerned with the pressure working women may feel to terminate a pregnancy if they are faced with the possibility of losing their jobs.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court judge and bold women’s rights advocate commented on this case in an interview earlier this fall.
While UPS’s previous policy may have been legal, their subsequent change in policy and the recently modified guidelines published by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reflect that the laws are due for a change. These new guidelines, as Young’s lawyer says, are “helpful, but not the same thing as a Supreme Court decision.” Women, who comprise nearly half of the American workforce, should not have to fear being forced from their positions when they become parents. The court’s decision has the potential to make a meaningful difference in the lives of many American families. We will have to wait to see if the Supreme Court will agree with the EEOC or not.
As the case goes to court this week, we will stay tuned to find out what the results will be.
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