Court Weighs How Companies Must Accommodate Pregnant Women

By John Fritze
The Baltimore Sun.

In a case that could have a profound impact on the rights of pregnant employees, the Supreme Court on Wednesday wrestled over whether a Maryland UPS driver faced discrimination when she was asked to leave her job because her pregnancy prevented her from lifting heavy packages.

At issue is whether a 1978 federal law requires companies to assign expecting mothers light duty or shorter hours if the business makes the same accommodations for injured workers.

Peggy Young, a Virginia resident who worked in Landover, Md., sued United Parcel Service in 2008 when a manager told her the company would not reassign her and that she could no longer perform her current job when her midwife recommended she not lift anything weighing more than 20 pounds.

She was required to take an extended leave of absence and lost her medical insurance.

Her case prompted the Maryland General Assembly to approve a state law last year preventing similar outcomes in the future. At least 14 other states, including California and Illinois, have adopted such measures.

In a surprising set of exchanges before the Supreme Court, the justices said they thought the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act could be read two ways: both as extending “favored” treatment to pregnant women but also potentially allowing companies to deny special accommodations if the same policy is applied to off-the-job injuries.

“What we know about the [law] is that it was supposed to be about removing stereotypes of pregnant women as marginal workers,” Justice Elena Kagan argued in one of the more passionate interactions on Wednesday. “It was supposed to be about ensuring that they wouldn’t be unfairly excludedfromtheworkplace.”

Caitlin J. Halligan, representing UPS, said the company’s policy does not discriminate against pregnant women but rather treats those workers the same as employees who suffer an off-the-job injury. The company doesn’t necessarily make special accommodations for those injured outside of work.

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