Workplace Issues

Supreme Court to Clarify Workplace Protections for Pregnant Women

Did UPS's refusal to accommodate a pregnant truck driver violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act?
Matthew HellerDecember 3, 2014
Supreme Court to Clarify Workplace Protections for Pregnant Women

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in a case brought by a former UPS truck driver that may clarify what accommodations employers must make for pregnant women under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

The law, enacted in 1998, provides that “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”

Some employers have interpreted that language to mean they must accommodate a pregnant women in the same way they would any other worker who has similarly physically restricted. But in the case of former UPS truck driver Peggy Young, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the company’s refusal to accommodate her after she said she couldn’t lift anything over 20 pounds during her pregnancy did not violate the discrimination law.

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Young is now urging the Supreme Court to reverse that decision and she has the support of pro-life organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“There are lots of women like Peggy Young who need temporary changes at work during pregnancy and too often, even if employers are routinely accommodating disabled workers, pregnant workers are pushed out to unpaid leave or fired,” Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel of the National Women’s Law Center, told Fortune.

“This case is really about whether pregnant women will continue to be asked to make the impossible choice between their jobs and their health,” she added.

In its ruling, the 4th Circuit agreed with a trial court judge that UPS had “crafted a pregnancy-blind policy” by limiting accommodations to those employees injured on the job, disabled as defined under the Americans With Disabilities Act, or stripped of their Department of Transportation certification.

Unlike an individual with an ADA-qualifying disability, the court said, Young’s limitation “was temporary and not a significant restriction on her ability to perform major life activities.”

But Young argued in her petition for Supreme Court review that UPS’s policy violated the PDA’s requirement that pregnant women “shall be treated the same” as nonpregnant employees “similar in their ability or inability to work.”

Featured image: Thinkstock