Peggy Young delivered letters and packages sent by air for UPS. When she got pregnant after struggling with infertility and IVF, her doctor recommended that she not lift more than 20 pounds. She asked UPS, where she had worked since 1999, for a “light duty” assignment, so that she could continue working through her pregnancy.
UPS said no. It explained that its policy was to offer light duty assignments or “inside” jobs to lots of different kinds of workers who were temporarily unable to perform their regular tasks: workers who were injured on the job, workers with a qualifying disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, workers who lose their commercial driving licenses because of an off-the-job injury, and workers involved in a car accident.
As a result, Peggy was put on unpaid leave with no medical coverage.
Sound illegal? It is, and has been since 1978, when Congress amended the civil rights laws to require employers to treat pregnant workers the same as any other worker who is similar in his or her ability or inability to do the job. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is supposed to guarantee that, if the boss offers any other class of temporarily disabled workers a benefit or accommodation — like light duty, extra bathroom breaks, access to water, or a modified schedule — pregnant workers are given the same treatment.
Employers, however, haven’t gotten the message — and neither, unfortunately, have some courts. The trial court in this case said that UPS’s treatment of Peggy Young was perfectly fine, because UPS had come up with “pregnancy-blind” reasons to justify why it treated all those other classes of workers better. It wasn’t alone — enough courts have been letting employers get away with pushing pregnant women out of their jobs in recent years that the EEOC, the federal agency that enforces the employment laws, held a public meeting on the topic last month.
Treating pregnant workers equally when it comes to accommodations is important, especially for blue-collar workers, who may already be working in male-dominated industries and whose jobs are most likely to entail heavy lifting and other activities that may be restricted for some pregnant women. Women have been fighting the stereotype that they should be at home, barefoot and pregnant, instead of at work for years. It was this stereotype that Congress outlawed in 1978. That’s why today the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and the ACLU of Maryland filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Peggy Young’s case, joined by a large number of women’s rights organizations. Thirty-four years after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was enacted, it’s time for employers to realize they can’t force pregnant workers off the job.