Finally, Courts Give Female Workers A Much-Needed “W”

The judicial system has not been particularly kind to working women recently. Breast-feeding moms, moms to be and really just women in general had been dealt what felt like unfair blows by the legal system, including The Supremes.

I stand by my belief The Supremes cheated Angela Ames (remember the woman fired for needing to pump her breast milk) out of her right to a jury trial; however, I also forecast better days for pregnant and really all women in the workplace.

My optimism is based on Peggy Young.

Peggy Young, a full-time working mom, was so excited to become pregnant and, as sometimes happens, had lifting restrictions imposed on her by her OBGYN. Her employer, UPS, refused to allow Young to work light duty and instead put her on unpaid leave.

Young sued UPS for violating the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
She had her case thrown out like garbage at the trial court level. Then suffered another blow at the appellate level. Determined not to give up, Young appealed her case to the Supreme Court.

As Young’s lawyer noted, the question at the heart of the case was whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires companies to offer light-duty options to pregnant workers if they already do so for non-pregnant workers in other situations.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority who ruled in favor of Young 6-2, answered “Hell yes, it does.” Okay, those weren’t his exact words, but he did pose a simple, yet important question, “why, when the employer accommodated so many, could it not accommodate pregnant women as well?”

The Supreme Court’s decision, which essentially vacates a 2013 ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, sends a positive message to women by refreshingly putting the rights of the individual above corporate interests.
And they did exactly what they had failed to do in Ames.
The Supremes in this case sent a little reminder to corporations and employers that, yes, The Pregnancy Discrimination Act does need to be followed. It prohibits companies from treating pregnant workers differently. So say a back injury prevents a worker for lifting more than 40 pounds. If the company accommodates him, they must also accommodate a pregnant woman with equal restrictions.

This seems really clear, right? And also, how shall I say this, fair.

The reasoning was lost on UPS who tried to argue they should only have to make allowances for job-related injuries, which, was trying to narrowly define The Pregnancy Discrimination Act. It was established in 1978 with the underlying purpose of protecting pregnant women in this workplace.
UPS’ unwillingness to honor this intent likely is why their argument failed. And their inability to provide a rational answer to the question posed by Justice Breyer is the reason they are going to lose this pregnancy discrimination case.
And this is a much needed move in the right direction for women.