Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there in Dawgbone Land! We hope that your loved ones celebrate and honor you all weekend. As for the legal issues, it just so happens that the U.S. Supreme Court recently weighed in on a case interpreting the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. What better topic for Mother’s Day!
Peggy Young, UPS driver, filed the suit. When she got pregnant in 2006 after several miscarriages, her doctor put her under some pretty tight restrictions. She was told not to lift anything over 20 pounds for her first 20 weeks, and nothing over ten thereafter.
If you’ve ever watched those athletic looking dudes and dudettes popping out of the brown vans, loaded down with packages, you know that this restriction would be a problem. Sure enough, UPS requires its drivers to lift 70 pounds alone, and 150 with assistance.
Of course there were other UPS drivers that were restricted in lifting, or were otherwise limited in ability to perform, and UPS accommodated many of them. For example, if you got hurt on the job, UPS would accommodate you. If you had a condition that qualified as a disability under the ADA, “Brown” would take care of you. If you were a driver who lost your Department of Transportation certification due to a failed medical exam, they would give you an inside job.
But if you were pregnant and could not lift when your job requires lifting, you were out of luck. This hit Ms. Young pretty hard. She ended up staying home without pay, and lost her medical insurance coverage. With a baby on the way. Ouch.
So she sued, alleging that UPS discriminated against her based on pregnancy, which is automatically a form of sex discrimination. UPS responded with the argument that what they did to her had nothing to do with pregnancy. Pregnant women, UPS said, were treated just like everyone else. They would be accommodated if they 1) got hurt on the job; 2) had a condition that qualified for ADA protection; or 3) needed an inside job due to loss of DOT certification as a driver. UPS said that non-pregnant workers who got injured off the job, like a guy who hurt his back playing pickup basketball on the weekend, would be treated just like Ms. Young. So it didn’t have anything to do with her pregnancy.
UPS won at the district court level and the 4th Circuit. But the U.S. Supreme Court vacated that judgment, holding that the lower courts applied the wrong analysis. The key language in the law is that pregnant workers must be treated the same “for all employment-related purposes…as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” The Court’s majority held that this language allows Peggy Young to proceed with her lawsuit. UPS will have the opportunity to defeat her lawsuit by showing that its refusal to accommodate her delicate condition was a “legitimate, non-discriminatory” reason. But if Ms. Young can show, for example, that UPS “accommodates a large percentage of nonpregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers” she likely has a good case.
Chief Justice Roberts joined the four liberals on this one, and Justice Alito agreed with the judgment, while writing his own concurring opinion. So it is reported as a 6-3 decision in favor of Ms. Young. Interesting to note that the men on the Court split 3-3. Ms. Young won because she got the support of all three of the justices who are capable of experiencing pregnancy.
So take that as a Happy Mother’s Day card from the U.S. Supreme Court. The case is Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. 135 S.Ct. 1338, decided on March 25, 2015.
DAWG BONE: IF YOU ACCOMMODATE SOME WORKERS, AND NOT THE PREGNANT ONES, ASK YOURSELF: WHAT’S THE EXPLANATION FOR THAT?