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All About Young vs. United Parcel Service

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November 3, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review Young vs. United Parcel Service to determine the extent  to which employers have to provide work accommodations for pregnant women. Peggy Young, a former UPS package delivery driver, became pregnant after a succesful in vitro fertilization. Young requested a lighter assignment due to her doctor’s recommendation that she lift objects weighing no more than twenty pounds. On the other hand, UPS’ policy requires employees to lift up to seventy pounds. Her request was denied by the occupational health manager  because her pregnancy did not fall within the jurisdiction of UPS’s policy for receiving alternate work assignments.

Because the request was denied, she was forced to take unpaid leave with the loss of health care benefits provided by the company. Upon returning to work in 2007, she sued UPS because she was the victim of gender-and disability-based discrimination.

UPS has allowed employees to take on lighter assignments in cases where workers were injured or lost their licenses due to instances of drunk driving. UPS, using the Americans with Disabilities Act, deemed Young unable to have her assignment changed because her pregnancy was not considered to be a disability.

Both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals agree that pregnancy cannot be regarded as a disability because it is not  identified as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, both courts agreed that employers are under no obligation to provide employees alternate assignments. Young then filed a writ of certiorari petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. which was granted on July 1st.

Organizations including the Legal Memontum, American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Women’s Law Center have contributed friend-of-the-court briefs.

It is being argued that UPS’s policy is in direct violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 which was  amended to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Its purpose was to prohibit sex discrimination based on pregnancy. In essence, pregnant people are entitled to the same work accommodations as other workers. They can be treated no differently than people, “similar in their ability, or inability, to work”(Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978).

One thing that has been left obscure is the exact interpretation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. I have included a portion of it below:

To amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

That section 701 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is amended by adding at the end thereof the following new subsection:

“(k) The terms ‘because of sex’ or ‘on the basis of sex’ include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; and women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work, and nothing in section 703(h) of this title shall be interpreted to permit otherwise. This subsection shall not require an employer to pay for health insurance benefits for abortion, except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term, or except where medical complications have arisen from an abortion: Provided, That nothing herein shall preclude an employer from providing abortion benefits or otherwise affect bargaining agreements in regard to abortion.”.4

Last week UPS,  informed its employees that  starting January 1, they will provide  temporary light duty positions to pregnant women who need it. It is hard to determine whether or not this was done out of fairness or because of the backlash  the company received.

In fact, Halloween marked the 36th anniversary of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. Very soon, the Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments for the case. The U.S. has come along way since 1978, but this case is just one of several examples of the steps we still need to to take in terms of women’s equality, worker’s rights, and bodily autonomy.

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