Justices side with ex-UPS worker who claims pregnancy bias

March 25, 2015

The Supreme Court is giving a former UPS driver another chance to prove her claim of discrimination after the company did not offer her lighter duty when she was pregnant.

The justices on Wednesday sided with former driver Peggy Young in throwing out lower court rulings that rejected Young's lawsuit.

The case concerned employers' responsibilities under the 37-year-old Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Atlanta-based UPS maintained that it obeyed the law because it provided light-work duty only in limited situations and did not single out pregnant women.

Two similar cases came to light in Indiana late last year.

But the company changed its policy as of January and says it now tries to accommodate pregnant workers.

The vote was 6-3 in Young's favor. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority opinion.

The outcome reflects a "middle ground" that Justice Elena Kagan suggested during arguments in early December. Courts must now re-examine Young's case with a more accepting view of the discrimination claim. UPS and other employers facing similar suits still are able to argue their policies were legal because they were based on seniority or some other acceptable reason.

Young's dispute with UPS arose after she gave her supervisor a doctor's note recommending that she not lift packages heavier than 20 pounds. Young, now 43, said she dealt almost exclusively with overnight letters, but UPS said its drivers must be able to lift packages weighing up to 70 pounds. Young left the company in 2009.

The Virginia woman lost two rounds in lower courts.

UPS has since changed its policy, and now says it will try to accommodate pregnant workers. Nine states also have adopted laws directing employers to do so.

In recent months, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has updated guidance to employers to make clear that they should accommodate people in Young's situation. Yet the U.S. Postal Service said it has made no change in policy and maintains the practice that UPS has now abandoned.

Indiana cases

The latest cases in Indiana involve R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. in Warsaw and Pizza King in Muncie, according to the Civil Rights Commission.

Pizza King is accused of hiring a woman for pizza preparation duties in November 2013, then taking back the job offer when she told them she was pregnant, citing "safety reasons."

At R.R. Donnelley, a woman was hired in August 2013 as a material handler, which required her to lift 50-pound loads. She was fired in March after a doctor ordered her to stop lifting loads of more than 20 pounds for six months due to her pregnancy. The company said it could not accommodate her restrictions.

The Civil Rights Commission said it may seek compensatory damages and injunctive relief, including changes in the employer’s policies and training, if the violations are proven.


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