New York, NY, March 25, 2015—Having led the effort that urged the Supreme Court to take Peggy Young’s case against UPS, Legal Momentum is pleased that the Supreme Court’s decision, released earlier today, upheld some of the key principles of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). In particular, the decision affirmed that employers cannot treat pregnant workers differently than other workers. The Court also indicated that accommodations should be available to pregnant workers if an employer already accommodates large segments of its workforce.
Legal Momentum has argued in courts in support of Ms. Young since 2012, filing an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and a second brief in support of Young’s efforts to persuade the Supreme Court to take her case.
Carol Robles-Román, President and CEO of Legal Momentum, the Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, said “The Supreme Court has made clear that federal law mandates employers to accommodate pregnant women on the same terms as everyone else.”
The case initially arose when UPS forced Peggy Young, one of its airmail delivery drivers, to take an unpaid leave of absence from her job in response to her pregnancy-related lifting restriction. UPS remained unwilling to accommodate Peggy even after it became clear that its policy already provides for light-duty accommodations in cases of employees who (1) have on-the-job injuries, (2) are disabled within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), or (3) lack the ability to obtain their Department of Transportation certification as the result of any number of causes, including the loss of a driver's license due to a DUI! The district court ruled against Young; the Fourth Circuit upheld that ruling, holding that UPS's policy was "pregnancy-blind" and therefore not afoul of the PDA.
In today’s 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court agreed with the argument Legal Momentum pressed in both of the two briefs it filed in support of Peggy Young: UPS’s policy was not pregnancy-blind. The Court particularly noted that UPS’s now-former policy had already accommodated many of its workers, including those with minor foot injuries; if the company could afford to extend so many accommodations, why were pregnant workers left out? It remains to be seen how UPS will respond to that question now that the case has been returned to the Fourth Circuit for further proceedings.
The decision, however, still points to the continued necessity for a federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. To show that she was entitled to an accommodation, Peggy will need to demonstrate that UPS’s decision to exclude pregnancy from its accommodation policies was unjustified. And while Peggy is well-equipped to do so, many pregnant women who find themselves in her position in the future might not be. Indeed, those women might not even know whether their employers have accommodation policies to begin with—let alone whether those policies were instituted and enforced in a way that discriminates against pregnant workers.
This is a burden that women living in states or municipalities that have passed more expansive laws that protect pregnant workers do not face. In those places, such as New York City, the law is clear: pregnancy must be accommodated, and no pregnant worker has to compare herself to a colleague in order stay employed (and able to support her family). Only Congressional action can ensure that women not fortunate enough to live in those states enjoy the same protections.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was created in 1978 in response to a United States Supreme Court holding that discrimination against pregnant workers was not sex discrimination. Legal Momentum has been working on issues related to discrimination against pregnant workers since 1976. Most recently, Legal Momentum has worked on the following projects:
• The New York City Pregnant Workers Fairness Act of 2014 (also see our Fact Sheet on this law).
• Interactive 50-State Map of Workplace Protections and Rights Pertaining to Pregnancy Discrimination, Accommodation, Leave, and Breastfeeding
• Legal Momentum’s legal resource kit “Pregnancy and Parental Leave: An Employment Guide,” originally published in 1998
• Lori Ann DiPalo v. Tri-borough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (2008)
• Akema Thompson v. New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (2014)
About Legal Momentum
About Legal Momentum
Legal Momentum is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1970 to advance the rights of women across the nation by using the power of the law and creating innovative public policy in three broad areas: economic justice, freedom from gender-based violence, and equality under the law. Successful initiatives include drafting and helping to pass the Violence Against Women Act and its subsequent reauthorizations; judicial education programs on the realities of sexual assault, domestic violence, and their intersection; and representing women who have been subjected to discrimination with precedent-setting litigation. For more information, visit www.legalmomentum.org.