Former driver takes on UPS in Supreme Court pregnancy discrimination case
In 2006, United Parcel Service driver Peggy Young was put on unpaid leave because she got pregnant. Now, Young is suing her former employer because she believes UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and the U.S. Supreme Court is about to hear the case.
The basic facts of the case are not disputed: When Young became pregnant, UPS’ company nurse asked her to obtain a doctor’s note. The doctor said Young should not lift more than 20 pounds while pregnant. UPS put her on unpaid leave because drivers are supposed to be able to lift 70 pounds or more.
But Young has several problems with how things played out. First, she says her job rarely required her to lift anything more than envelopes or small boxes, and a colleague was willing to assist with heavier items.
Second, she believes UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. UPS classified Young with other employees who had been disabled while away from work, and Young believes that pregnancy should not be considered a disability. She also says UPS has accommodated other drivers who have lost their licenses, or had strokes and other medical conditions. Those drivers, she says, were given a chance to work on “light duty” until they could get back on the road, while she was not.
UPS disputes that it treated other employees with off-duty issues any differently than it treated Young. It also had a different interpretation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
In 2006, UPS had a blanket policy that only provided lighter work duty for anyone with a legal disability, who had lost their federal driver’s certificate or who had been injured while working for the company. UPS says this did not discriminate against pregnant women, because the policy did not not single out pregnancy as a disability it did not cover.
To win the case, Young will have to prove that the blanket policy was discriminatory.
In 2008, U.S. Congress updated the Americans with Disabilities Act to include temporary disabilities, which has been interpreted to include pregnancy. UPS updated its policy accordingly this past October, after the Supreme Court decided to hear Young’s case against the company.
While that could play favorably with the court, it doesn’t solve Young’s quarrel with the company guidelines that put her out of work.
“A facially neutral policy, a policy that does not single out pregnant women on its face for unfavorable treatment, has never been determined to be intentionally discriminatory,” Caitlin Halligan, the lawyer representing UPS, told NPR.
The case will likely have ramifications for many working pregnant women. If the Supreme Court decides in favor of UPS, some say it would shield companies from having to consider specific accommodations for pregnant women. The National Women’s Law Center has shown that losing a job while pregnant can send a family spiraling into poverty.
UPS has won twice in separate lower courts, and a Supreme Court decision in favor of Young would only allow her to bring UPS back to court in front of a jury. Young, who according to The Washington Post, now works as a waitress at Olive Garden and as a warehouse associate for a government contractor, hopes to win the money and benefits she would have earned, had she been allowed to keep her job.