Tomorrow the United States Supreme Court will hear a case concerning Peggy Young, a UPS driver who was given unpaid leave after revealing to the company that her doctor advised her not to lift more than 20 pounds because she was pregnant. This is a common instruction doctors give to pregnant women.
Even though Young’s position with UPS rarely required her to lift heavy packages, they refused to excuse her from those duties, or reassign her for light duty jobs; instead they left her in a difficult situation. Young lost her health benefits, pension, disability benefits and her pay for seven months.
She argued that she was a good and honorable employee, and that it would have been easy for the company to accommodate her needs. Young also mentioned that at the time she had a second job where she delivered flowers and had to lift heavier items than she did with UPS.
Young later sued UPS under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), which requires employers to treat pregnant women the same as workers who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.”
Twenty-three pro-life organizations support Young, including Concerned Women for America, Students for Life, Bethany Christian Services, Heartbeat International, the Catholic Medical Association and Christian Adoption Services. In a rare alliance, pro-abortion groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union, side with Young as well on grounds of women’s equality.
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The Supreme Court’s decision has the potential to affect the lives of millions of women, who make up 47 percent of the labor force and often work during and late into their pregnancies. According to the Census Bureau, an estimated 62 percent of women who had given birth in the previous year were in the labor force.
Women are the sole or primary breadwinners in 40 percent of American families with children, according to a Pew Research Center study. Whether employers are required to make accommodations for their pregnancies, women’s groups say, will make a tangible difference in the lives of many families.
UPS has announced that it will change its policy to offer light duty to pregnant women starting in January. “The new policy will strengthen UPS’s commitment to treating all workers fairly and supporting women in the workplace,” said Kara Ross, a spokeswoman for the company.
The case before the Supreme Court, she said, “is really about what the UPS policy was then.” The old policy, she said, “was lawful and consistently applied to our workers.”
The Company told the justices that it had no legal obligation to make the kinds of accommodations it recently announced. The lower courts in Ms. Young’s case agreed, with a unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond Va., saying the pregnancy law does not give pregnant women “a ‘most favored nation’ status.”
However, Young and many pro-life organizations disagree and believe that UPS forced her to choose between a healthy pregnancy and making a living. Additionally, in 1978, one of the reasons Congress passed the PDA was to help women who might consider abortion for economic reasons to continue their work and their pregnancies. According to the Guttmacher Institute, over 70% of women site economic hardship as a reason for choosing abortion.