A Win for Pregnant Workers at the Supreme Court

Peggy Young, a UPS driver who was forced from her when she got pregnant because the company wouldn’t allow her to work light duty, was victorious late last month at the U.S. Supreme Court. You can read the entire opinion here.

"Conservative" Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito joined with the "liberal" justices on the Court in what most observers are characterizing as a big win, not just for pregnant women, but also for all women in the workplace. That is no small feat from a court that has in recent years narrowed interpretations of anti-discrimination law and been reluctant to impose any new burdens on businesses. 

The case had brought together an unusual alliance of women’s rights activists and anti-abortion groups, who argued that women shouldn’t have to choose between her pregnancy and her job.

The 6-3 opinion, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, sends the Young case back to the Fourth Circuit of Appeals, which had previously ruled against Young, with a new set of rules that should make Young’s chances of prevailing “very strong.” The Fourth Circuit, Breyer wrote, should have asked, “Why, when the employer accommodated so many, could it not accommodate pregnant women as well?”

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented. Young argued that because UPS accommodated other kinds of workers, such as injured ones or drivers who had lost their Department of Transportation licenses, it was discriminatory not to extend the same to pregnant women who also temporarily needed to be accommodated. The court’s majority didn’t entirely accept that argument, but it did say that pregnant workers could bring claims under the long-settled "McDonnell Douglass process for adjudicating other discriminatory claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Under the court’s reasoning, Young wouldn’t have to show UPS was intentionally discriminating against pregnant workers, but a court would have to “consider the extent to which an employer’s policy treats pregnant workers less favorably than it treats non-pregnant workers similar in their ability or inability to work.”

UPS has reportedly already changed its policy to explicitly include accommodations for pregnant workers, but the rules laid out by the case will impact working women at companies around the country, since they guide lower courts in future litigation.