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The Fight to Let Pregnant Women Work Reaches the Supreme Court

Lenora M. Lapidus,
Former Director,
Women's Rights Project, ACLU
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September 11, 2014

Peggy Young worked for UPS delivering letters and packages. When she became pregnant, she requested but was denied less strenuous work. She was then forced off her job.

We first told you about Peggy’s story back in 2012, when the ACLU announced its support for her appeal. We argued that Peggy Young, like all pregnant workers who need temporary accommodations, is entitled to the same kinds of light-duty assignments employers routinely make available to disabled and injured workers. The appeals court in Peggy’s case ruled against her. The court found that it was perfectly legal for UPS to leave her high and dry.

Just when she needed her paycheck to prepare for the expenses of having a baby, Peggy lost her pay, her benefits and had to go without health insurance. To make matters worse, she couldn’t even get short-term disability benefits, because her doctor hadn’t said she could not work – just that she could not lift heavy objects. She ended up stuck in a cruel bind – not allowed by UPS to work, but also not able to collect the short-term benefits normally available to people who temporarily cannot work.

Today, we filed a “friend of the court” brief in support of Peggy Young at the Supreme Court, which will consider her case this term.

Peggy’s home state of Maryland reacted to this decision by standing up for pregnant workers. It passed a law requiring employers to give reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers who need them. This year, a number of other states followed suit. And now the Supreme Court will decide whether employers like UPS must offer light duty and other accommodations to pregnant workers that are provided to other employees.

Unfortunately, Peggy’s situation is not an isolated case. In fact, it’s pretty typical of workers who are pushed to take unpaid leave when pregnant. One worker who testified before Congress this year, Armanda Legros, described her inability as a single mom to put food on the table after she was kicked out of her job at a truck company because she couldn’t lift heavy items while six months pregnant. She ended up having to take shortcuts, like putting water in her older child’s cereal instead of milk, and had to turn to public assistance to get by.

Our client Asia Myers, a nursing assistant at a nursing home was not allowed to come to work after she experienced pregnancy complications and was told not to lift by her doctor. Being out of work made it hard for her to make ends meet, and she watched the bills pile up.

These incidents have long-term effects on women’s ability to maintain stable careers and achieve equality in the workforce. Last week, the New York Times reported on new data showing that while men statistically get paid more when they have children (the “fatherhood bonus”), women pay a “motherhood penalty” that affects their income throughout their lives. Policies like UPS’s, that force pregnant women who want to work out of the workforce, contribute to this problem.

In the brief we filed today, along with our co-authors at A Better Balance, and joined by a number of civil rights organizations, we explained what happened to Peggy, Armanda Legros, and other women who have been pushed into financial instability by policies like UPS’. These are part of the larger picture of persistent inequality for working women who become pregnant and have children. We hope the Supreme Court agrees: It’s time for employers to let women – including pregnant women – remain at work.

Read more about pregnancy discrimination.

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