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The US Supreme Court Rules for Pregnant Women


It’s been a long time coming, but the verdict for Young vs. United Parcel Service, Inc. is finally in. And, while the Supreme Court justices rejected both sides’ arguments, the result is still potentially great news for women workers and a move in the right direction to beat pregnancy discrimination. The court offered an alternate interpretation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and tossed the case back to the lower courts.

Lady Justice - Pregnancy Discrimination

(Photo credit: AJEL/Pixabay)

The oral arguments before the Supreme Court were heard last December, but this case has been in the courts since 2008, when Peggy Young requested a weight restriction; based on a doctor’s recommendation. Instead of being given light-duty work, she was put on unpaid leave, without medical.

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In the 6-3 Supreme Court decision, the majority sent the case back to the lower courts with the “disparate-impact claim,” which puts the burden of proof on UPS to demonstrate why Young was not accommodated. The verdict offers a new interpretation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, while also suggesting that the actions taken by UPS against Young might be inferred to be discriminatory

So, why is this decision so important?

1. Policy Change

Even before this case had reached this point, UPS had already changed their policy about extending accommodation for light-duty requirements to pregnant women. That’s important to all of us, but women in particular. It means that what we do, and say, does make a difference in the workplace. What we should care about more than anything, though, is that this case will (hopefully) mean that fewer women will be laid off, without pay, just because they are pregnant

2. Accommodation Requirement

The case ensures that employers must accommodate pregnant workers, just as they would accommodate other workers. This is not only a matter of job security, but also should help to alleviate at least some of the fear factor associated with pregnancy. If you’ve been pregnant, and have been afraid to tell your boss — for fear of being laid off (or forced out) — this case stands as a signpost. It doesn’t mean that pregnancy discrimination is gone forever, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

3. Consideration of Health

As Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, “No pregnant woman should be forced to choose between keeping her job and what’s best or her health.” Without going into all the potential complications in pregnancy, suffice it to say that we’re not in the Dark Ages. Doctors recommend the “light” duty for a reason, and much of that heightened level of health (and self) care helps to account for the higher mortality rates in the woman (and in infants). It may sound a bit melodramatic to say, but it really is a matter of life-and-death. 

4. Recruiting Tool

Workers should make it their business to know what their employer’s policy is when it comes to pregnancy. It’s not typically a question that most of us would consider asking, and it doesn’t naturally flow into the course of the interview process. But, if you have a chance to meet with potential co-workers, it’s easy enough to ask them if they have kids, and you can also do your homework on the company. 

Of course, pregnancy discrimination is not cut-and-dried. The experience is different for every woman, and it’s not going away overnight. There are ways to fight pregnancy discrimination, and this case gives us hope. A woman’s pregnancy should not mean the end of her career, layoff, and the whole host of after-effects. 

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Have you experienced pregnancy discrimination? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Esther Lombardi
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