By Kathy Greenier, Reproductive Freedom Project Director
It’s been a bad year for women’s rights, and next year may prove just as troubling. On the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a deeply troubling, unprecedented ruling undermining women’s rights and religious freedom, news broke that the Supreme Court will consider, next term, another case with huge implications for women’s rights. The Court will hear the case of Peggy Young, a pregnant worker at UPS whose doctor recommended that she not lift more than 20 pounds. Young asked UPS, where she had worked since 1999, for a "light duty" assignment, so that she could continue working through her pregnancy. UPS, shockingly, said no.
Young was put on unpaid leave with no medical coverage because UPS policy is to offer light duty assignments only to other types of workers temporarily unable to perform their regular tasks: workers who were injured on the job, workers with a qualifying disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, workers who lose their commercial driving licenses because of an off-the-job injury, and workers involved in a car accident.
Wait a minute though, doesn’t that sound illegal? Well, it is. In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 to to require employers to treat pregnant workers the same as any other worker who is similar in his or her ability or inability to do the job. The Act guarantees that, if the boss offers other temporarily disabled workers a benefit or accommodation — like light duty, extra bathroom breaks, access to water, or a modified schedule — pregnant workers are given the same treatment.
Even now, in 2014, neither some employers nor some courts got the message. A trial court ruled against Young, saying that UPS's treatment of Young is okay, because UPS had come up with "pregnancy-blind" (meaning that it offered accommodations for only a certain group of individuals, and did not specifically exclude pregnant women from that group) reasons to justify why it treated all those other classes of workers better. Now that her case will go before the Supreme Court, we must make sure that our message is heard loud and clear: Thirty-six years after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was enacted, it's time for employers to realize they can't force pregnant workers off the job.
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