Supreme Court Revives Pregnant Worker’s Case against UPS

Date: 3/25/15
Title: Supreme Court Revives Pregnant Worker’s Case against UPS

On March 25, 2015, the Supreme Court in a 6-3 majority decision ruled in favor of Peggy Young by giving her another chance to argue that her employer, UPS, discriminated against her when it refused to offer her light duty work while she was pregnant.  A federal district court judge and an appeals court had previously rules in favor of UPS.  According to the majority opinion, Young should have had a chance to plead her case in court. Justice Breyer is careful to add that the court doesn’t necessarily find that Young suffered actual discrimination, and that UPS’s old policy was impermissible. That question is kicked back to the Fourth Circuit.

Young, who worked at a Maryland facility, became pregnant in 2006. She made her request for an accommodation after a midwife advised that she not be required to lift packages weighing more than 20 pounds.  UPS had a policy that provided light-duty work for certain employees (including some disabled employees) but not for pregnant workers.  Ms. Young tried to show through indirect evidence that the policy resulted in the disparate treatment of pregnant workers. The justices didn’t accept the broadest version of Young’s discrimination argument, but they made it clear that nobody can be treated as she was by an employer without recourse by the courts.

Breyer said the lower court failed to consider the effects of UPS policies that covered non-pregnant workers who might have disabilities, injuries or otherwise might need accommodations.  He also said that there is a "genuine dispute as to whether UPS provided more favorable treatment to at least some employees whose situation cannot reasonably be distinguished from Young's."

The court "made clear that employers may not refuse to accommodate pregnant workers based on considerations of cost or convenience when they accommodate other workers."

This decision was not made easily.  On Wednesday, the Supreme Court actually ended up rejecting both Young’s interpretation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and UPS’s arguments.  Breyer didn’t buy Young’s contention that, as he put it, “the statute grants pregnant workers a ‘most-favored-nation’ status.” He writes that he doesn’t accept the argument that “as long as an employer provides one or two workers with an accommo­dation—say, those with particularly hazardous jobs, or those whose workplace presence is particularly needed, or those who have worked at the company for many years, or those who are over the age of 55—then it must provide similar accommodations to all pregnant workers.” Breyer also rejected an argument from the EEOC, which had changed its own guidelines while the case was pending at the Supreme Court that its new rules should carry the day. Finally, Breyer’s opinion rejected the UPS reading of the PDA statute that as long as its light-duty rules were "pregnancy neutral," treating Young like anyone else was permissible.



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