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How much protection does a federal law give to pregnant workers?

January 7, 2015

By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer

In early December, the Supreme Court heard arguments about how much protection a federal anti-discrimination law gives to pregnant employees.

The case centers on Peggy Young, a former UPS air delivery driver. When Young became pregnant, her doctor recommended that she lift nothing over 20 pounds. UPS requires that drivers be able to lift over 70 pounds, so Young asked for light-lifting duty. Her supervisor denied her request. Young was forced her to take an unpaid leave of absence. ”I lost my medical benefits. I lost my wages. I lost my pension and ended up losing the chance at short-term disability after I had my child,” Young said.

Young thought that her rights had been violated under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. She sued UPS in federal court.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires that employers treat pregnant workers the same as non-pregnant employees who are “similar in their ability and inability to work.”

UPS argues that it was in compliance with the law because it has across-the-board rules regarding the lifting requirements for employees who sustain injuries on the job or who have a qualified disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). If an employee fails the lifting requirement because of an off-the-job medical condition or does not have an ADA-qualified disability, UPS is not required to honor the exemption.

Nine states have laws requiring employers to accommodate pregnant workers, with similar legislation in state legislatures in a half-dozen other states.

Two lower courts ruled in favor of UPS, saying that the policy did not discriminate against pregnant workers. The courts ruled that the UPS policy was neutral on the issue of pregnancy because it made a clear distinction between on-the-job and off-the-job injuries.

Young’s lawyer said that UPS routinely makes accommodations for drivers who lose their license because of drunken-driving violations that occur outside work.

Undeterred by the lower courts’ decisions, Young petitioned the Supreme Court to take up her case, Young v. United Parcel Service. The Supreme Court was asked to further define the scope of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which seemed to divide the justices during oral arguments.

Justice Stephen Breyer questioned the scope that the ruling would have on the workplace environment for pregnant workers because employers “have all kinds of different rules for different kinds of jobs.” Breyer and Justice Antonin Scalia cited seniority practices in which workers who have been with the company longer get better treatment. “How do we tell” which rules and policies are reasonable and which ones aren’t? Breyer asked.

Justice Elena Kagan, on the other hand, argued about the intention of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. She said the law “was supposed to be about removing stereotypes of pregnant women as marginal workers. It was supposed to be about ensuring that they wouldn’t be unfairly excluded from the workplace.”

Update, March 26, 2015: In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Peggy Young, reviving her discrimination claim against UPS by returning the case to a lower court. In the majority opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer said the lower court failed to consider the effects of UPS policies that covered non-pregnant workers who might have disabilities or otherwise might need accommodations.

What do you think?

Did UPS violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in Young’s case? Or was its policy neutral on pregnancy? Join the discussion and let us know what you think?
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Mr. Hanna/ Stroudsburg JHS
The UPS did violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Peggy's supervisor knew that the she was pregnant and he still expected her to lift 70., knowing that doing that could affect the child she is carrying. Plus she showed that she was still dedicated and willing to do her job instead of sitting around.

Mr. Hanna/ SJHS
The UPS did violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. If drunk drivers are accommodated, then women who are carrying living beings in their bodies should be able to do things on the job that allow that child to grow safely. This policy is not neutral at alleast when it comes to pregnancy.

Mr. Faulhaber/ Sidney High School
UPS most definitely violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in the Peggy Young case. Pregnant women should be treated the same as other employees who are not pregnant. In the situation of Peggy's job UPS should have been able to provide Peggy with a job that is suitable to her need. It was wrong of Peggy's employers to have her take a non-paid leave of absence because it took away the things she needed to be ready for her new baby such as her pay, health benefits, and pension.

Diamond bar/ CA
Wong/L orbeer
UPS absolutely violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in Peggy Young's case. The whole point of that act so employers treat pregnant workers the same as non-pregnant workers though which have "similar and inability to work." Because of this act pregnant women are not supposed to be discriminated against. Young said that her doctor suggested that she not lift any thing 20 pounds or over, but in order to work at UPS you have to be required to lift at least 70 pounds. So when Young asked for light lifting duty UPS rejected and fired her. I feel that this is not okay, it was very right of Peggy to take them to court. UPS deserves to be told that they are wrong in a very mean way in this case. I think that all pregnant women out their should do what is necessary for their child and if they get fired for it do something about it don't just let it happen.

Diamond Bar, CA
I believe that UPS did violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act because they fired Young because she couldn't lift anything over 20 pounds. According to Young, UPS made accommodations for drivers who lost their license because of drunk driving. Although the company couldn't accommodate a pregnant women who is so dedicated she went back to work when she should've been resting for her and her child's health. If UPS fires every female worker who becomes pregnant then the shipping company would eventually be discriminating women. When the woman is healthy enough after the birth and can come back to work they will be able to lift 70 pounds again. It is not like they are stuck in that position forever, just a few months. Also when women are hired employers have to remember that women do undergo childbirth and will most likely take a maternal leave some point during their time of work there. Women shouldn't be fired because of pregnancy when it is a natural thing that happens to almost every woman.

Sidney, MT
Sierra C.
Mr. Faulhaber/ Sidney High School
I believe that UPS did violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in Young's case. It's not right to discriminate pregnant women or make them go on unpaid leave of absence. Young lost money all because UPS couldn't bother trying to accommodate what was best for Young according to the doctors' note. If Young says what is true about UPS making accommodations for drivers who lose their license to drunk driving violations out of work then why are they still working there and why do they get special treatment? After Young would have the baby its not that she wouldn't be able to go back to lifting over 70 pounds again. She can still do the same work. Young was just being precarious about protecting her fetus. If an injured employee came in to work (unable to work) and they got paid leave, medical benefits, able to come back into work full-time when healed then why shouldn't a pregnant women be able to get the same benefits (especially if she was willing to work still).

Stroudsburg, PA
Mr. Hanna/ Stroudsburg JHS
Pregnant women have a hard time doing there jobs but they can get them done. It should be illegal to Fire of discriminate against pregnant women. UPS violated the act because they could have easily given her another job but they didn't. You could tell the women was really dedicated to her job because even while pregnant she was willing to still work. Pregnant workers should be allowed to work and still earn their pay no matter what.

Victoria Arce
Hanna/ Stroudsburg Junior High School
NO, I think that she should not be fired. What should happen is that she could do another job in the company that does not effect or harm her or the baby. And after she has the baby and has her materity leave, she can resume her original job that she had before she had the baby. And if she is fitred from the job she should she should sue the company.

Mr. Hanna
Yes, UPS did violate the Pregnancy Drscrimination Act. People are not allowed to discriminate on people for religion or gender so why should they be able I discriminate on pregnant women. They should have given her a light weight job while she was pregnant. It is not fair to discriminate on anyone for any reason.

Stroudsburg, PA
Mr. Hanna/Stroudsburg JHS
Yes they did violate discrimination laws in Young' s case. It was not policy she asked for lighter work and the fact that they gave her an unpaid leave of absence was completely uncalled for.

Jessica M.
Mr.Hanna/Stroudsburg Junior High School
I truly believe that United Parcel Service violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in Young's case. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers to treat pregnant employees the same as normal employees who have similar abilities and inabilities in the workforce. If a normal employee were to come in with an injury that limits their ability to carry over 70 pounds then they would be accommodated, so the same thing should happen with pregnant females. Being pregnant does not setback that person or tarnish the company name, just the same as hiring disabled people who can heal their injuries sets the company back. Young lost her job because of being pregnant which is unfair because they wouldn't fire someone with a broken leg just because they can't do something. The woman was forced to leave because she couldn't meet certain "requirements" which can easily be changed. She should at least gotten a paid leave, which an injured employee would have gotten. It is also not like Young stopped doing her job by choice, first of all she had asked for a job transfer and secondly it is not like she had a choice on what could or couldn't affect her and the fetus's health. She was just taking care of herself and trying to find a way to keep working at UPS without jeopardizing her health.

Mr.Jabro/ creekside
i think that it should be illegal to fire or discriminate against pregnant workers,because if the could do everything the did when they weren't pregnant then they should be allowed to stay in the job and in the position that they're in , being pregnant isn't a setback for the company ,and it has nothing to do with the company either , the workers pregnancy is her problem and it shouldn't asked to take a unpaid leave from work, because what if she's in need of the money for the new she's carrying, and if she gets fired cause of a pregnancy then the company could be at risk of getting sued over discrimnation

Mr.Jabro/Creekside Highschool
I believe that UPS was in the right on this one. UPS holds the same standards across the board for every employee. So if I came in being pregnant with a note saying I can not lift over 20 pounds and a man came in with an arm injury with a note saying he could not lift over 10 pounds both of us would be let go. They are not discriminating against anyone. UPS policy is neutral to everyone and doe not discriminate.

ed naeemy
jabro creekside
Yes the ups did violate the act. There should be no reason why they did that they could've easily given her another job or they could've given her the light lift duties. She lost all of her benefits and her job she got an unpaid leave I mean if you're having a kid you need to be able to support that baby. The fact that she was willing to still work while pregnant shows that shes really dedicated and that should give you the thought that if shes pregnant and works then she'd work under any circumstances and that's what makes a loyal, reliable, and trustworthy employee.

Murrieta, CA
Jabro /Creekside Highschool
Yes, UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in Young's case. Not only that, but that's a pregnant lady, and they should show some respect for that, that was a terrible thing to do.

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