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Pregnancy Discrimination Case Goes to the Supreme Court

Pregnancy Discrimination

In 2006, UPS declined to give part-time truck driver Peggy Young light duty during her pregnancy. Instead, the company put her on unpaid leave. This December, the Supreme Court will determine whether UPS’ policies and actions were appropriate under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Different Interpretations of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act

Passed in 1978 as an amendment to the Civil Rights Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act has been plagued by ambiguity from the start. Employers have reached a range of differing conclusions about how the Act should be interpreted—in particular, the language that pregnant women “shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes…as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability to work.”

Some employers have construed that phrase to mean they must meet the needs of pregnant women the same as they would meet the needs of any other worker who’s similarly physically restricted. Other companies argue that so long as their policies are “pregnancy neutral,” they’re in compliance with the Act. This often means treating pregnancy the same way they would an off-the-job injury, which requires no special treatment.

The Impact of the Case

Young v. UPS could affect the lives of 68 million working women in the United States, many of whom work well into their pregnancies. At the same time, pregnancy discrimination cases are on the rise. In 2013, more than 5,000 pregnancy discrimination charges were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state and local Fair Employment Practices agencies, up from 3,900 in 1997.

A clear ruling on what accommodations employers must make under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act should make it easier for companies to implement appropriate policies for pregnant workers.

Even without the Supreme Court’s instruction, many employers are providing more accommodations for pregnant women than they did in the past—including UPS. Next year the company will offer temporary light duty to pregnant workers who need it. In spite of its change in policy, UPS maintains that its denial of Young’s light duty request was lawful at the time.

We’ll see if the court agrees.

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