The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an important pregnancy discrimination case case arising out of Maryland. A UPS worker, Peggy Young, handled the early morning unloading of overnight parcels. After she became pregnant, she was diagnosed as high risk and told not to lift items heavier than 20 pounds. Her particular shift handled very few heavy items: most people pay extra for early morning delivery only for important documents, in lightweight envelopes, not merchandise. Still, her coworkers promised to help her with any of the heavy parcels. This seemed like a workable accommodation, but UPS said no.
Her job description called for her to be able to handle parcels up to 70 pounds, and the company refused to agree to allow her to continue in her job with the medical limitations. The company offered light duty assignments to people who had suffered on the job injuries, but would not permit Ms. Young to take one of these jobs. Instead, it relied on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act’s statement that pregnant workers are entitled to be treated equally, but not better, than other employees.
She had to leave her job, losing her income and her health insurance, and could not come back to work until after the baby was born.
Peggy Young sued UPS, and lost her claim before the federal district court and the Fourth Circuit. The Supreme Court accepted the case over the tepid objection of the United States, which believed she should have gotten relief, but that for the purpose of making new law, reviewing the case was unnecessary because the Americans with Disabilities Act has since been amended to require accommodations for pregnant workers.
Ms. Young’s case was the direct impetus behind the introduction of Maryland’s Pregnancy Fairness Act. That law passed last year, and requires employers to make accommodations that do not pose an undue hardship on their businesses. Under that standard, UPS would have been required to allow Ms. Young to work, either at her job with the limitations or at a light duty job. A similar law has been introduced into Congress; it is unclear whether the Congress could pass such an initiative.
The Supreme Court resumes sessions in October, the decision in this case could come anytime between then and next June.