Workplace discrimination for pregnant women is a very real issue — with women losing their job or benefits over the years simply because they are carrying an unborn baby. The discrimination prompts some pro-life advocates to worry that some pregnant women may actually consider an abortion out of fear they will lose their jobs.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard 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 (below) 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.”
Today, the Supreme Court ruled in her favor and on behalf of pregnant women in general:
Pregnant workers can claim the same accommodations that employers grant to large numbers of similarly restricted workers, a divided Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
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While indicating that getting pregnant isn’t automatically a ticket to light duty at work, the court ruled 6-3 that United Parcel Service could not deny a pregnant worker accommodations it made available to large numbers of others.
The 6-3 ruling, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, was not a complete victory for former UPS driver Peggy Young or pregnant workers like her. But it tossed out an appeals court decision that backed UPS and sent the case back for further review, with Young’s side bolstered.
Plaintiffs such as Young can win their employment discrimination lawsuits, Breyer said, if they can show “that the employer’s reasons are simply not strong enough to justify that burden, but rather give rise to an inference of intentional discrimination.”
In its ruling, the court did not say pregnant workers deserve the same treatment as any similarly restricted worker; rather, it said if a large number of other workers were accommodated, then pregnant workers would have a strong claim for equal treatment.
Justice Antonin Scalia dissented, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. He said Young did not prove that UPS’s policy discriminated against pregnant women, and he accused the majority — including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito — of crafting a policy compromise devoid of legal reasoning.
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, sided with Young as well on grounds of women’s equality.
Young and many pro-life organizations 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.