In a 5-4 decision today (SCOTUSblog analysis here), the United States Supreme Court ruled that Peggy Young’s employment discrimination lawsuit against UPS could proceed. Young was forced to take leave without pay when she was pregnant due to a 20-pound lifting restriction, even though UPS accommodated other drivers in conditions that were similarly, or even more, restrictive.

Young’s suit claimed that UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, saying that Young couldn’t show that “similarly-situated employees outside the protected class received more favorable treatment” than she did. People who had lost their drivers’ licenses due to DUIs weren’t similarly situated because Young wasn’t legally barred from driving; other workers with physical limitations weren’t similarly situated because they were covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Young wasn’t. She appealed, and the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Circuit’s interpretation of the PDA was too narrow.

Young can now go back and make the case that UPS denied her accommodations that were available to other workers who were similar in their ability or inability to work. If she can show that — and in this case, she has — UPS can try to demonstrate that the reasons for not accommodating her were pregnancy-neutral and not based on discrimination. The argument that accommodations would cost money, though technically neutral, can’t be used as a reason not to provide them to pregnant workers.

All in all, this is a victory for pregnant workers and their babies. However, there’s still uncertainty about what accommodations the law requires, and that uncertainty will mean that the only way for many women to get fair treatment is by taking employers to court. That’s why Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), one of the lead sponsors of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, said on Twitter: “While today’s #SCOTUS ruling in #YoungvUPS is a victory for Peggy, it does not create a predictable, simple standard for pregnant workers. Congress should pass my #PWFA, to establish a clear and predictable standard, guaranteeing reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers.” We agree. Pregnant workers shouldn’t have to choose between their jobs on the one hand, and their health and that of their children on the other.

Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in the Senate, and Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Susan Davis (D-CA), and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) in the House, have re-introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in the new Congress. PWFA would require companies to provide pregnant employees with the same types of accommodations that are required for disabled workers under the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to Casey’s office:

Currently, pregnant working women around the country are being denied simple adjustments – permission to use a stool while working a cash register, or to carry a bottle of water to stay hydrated, or temporary reassignment to lighter duty tasks – that would keep them working and supporting their families while maintaining healthy pregnancies. The legislation will close legal loopholes and ensure that pregnant women are treated fairly on the job.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will accomplish this by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers and preventing employers from forcing women out on leave when another reasonable accommodation would allow them to continue working. The bill also bars employers from denying employment opportunities to women based on their need for reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

In recent and startling examples, Amy Crosby, a hospital cleaner in Tallahassee, Florida, was forced into unpaid leave from her job when the hospital refused to accommodate her doctor’s request that she not lift more than 20 pounds because of her pregnancy; Heather Wiseman, a retail worker in Salina, Kansas, was fired because she needed to carry a water bottle to stay hydrated and prevent bladder infections; and Victoria Serednyj, an activity director at a nursing home in Valparaiso, Indiana, was terminated because she required help with some physically strenuous aspects of her job to prevent having another miscarriage. For the well-being of pregnant workers, and for the sake of the economic stability of American families, our laws must be updated and clarified.

The National Women’s Law Center has more information in their PWFA factsheet.

Preventing pregnant mothers from having to choose between the jobs they need to provide for their families on one hand, and their own health and the health of their unborn children on the other, is pro-life. If you agree and you are in the U.S., please contact your Senators and Representatives to ask them to cosponsor the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 1975 in the House and S. 942 in the Senate).

Here are some talking points you can use in your email and phone call:

  • Women make up about half of the U.S. workforce. Two-thirds of women who had their first child between 2006 and 2008 worked during their pregnancies. Workers are not machines to be shaped to suit jobs — we are people who deserve to have our needs accommodated.
  • The PWFA relies on a reasonable accommodation framework already familiar to employers accustomed to the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Most of the required accomodations are small and inexpensive for the employer — such as allowing employees to use a stool instead of standing or to have a water bottle with them as they work — but they can make a huge difference for the employee and her child.
  • If your Representative or Senator identifies as pro-life, remind them that they would be helping to protect the lives and health of unborn children as well as their mothers.

Please let us know how your call goes, or if you get a response to your email!