Women’s Health and Medical Groups Urge U.S. Supreme Court to Affirm Equal Treatment and Protect the Health of Pregnant Workers
On Thursday, a group of 12 organizations concerned with improving maternal and infant health, led by the National Partnership for Women & Families, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Young v. United Parcel Service (UPS) – one of the most important cases for women and families this term. The brief urges the Supreme Court to affirm pregnant workers’ legal right to equal treatment on the job, particularly equal access to reasonable workplace modifications, arguing that failure to do so would undermine the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), put the health and economic security of pregnant women and their families at risk, and deviate from sound health, economic and social policy.
At issue in Young v. UPS is whether UPS violated the PDA by forcing the petitioner, Peggy Young, to take unpaid leave when she requested a temporary modification of her job duties, as advised by her medical provider. The question before the Court is whether, and under what circumstances, an employer that accommodates non-pregnant employees with work limitations must accommodate pregnant employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.
According to the brief, many women are able to continue working throughout their pregnancies without any need for on-the-job modifications. For others, physical effects or complications related to pregnancy create temporary physical limitations that may necessitate modest job or worksite adjustments – such as being able to stay hydrated by carrying a water bottle, taking bathroom breaks or lifting lighter loads – based on a health care provider’s advice. The brief argues that ensuring women who need such modifications do not unlawfully lose their jobs when others are similarly accommodated is required by the PDA, and essential given the importance of women’s wages to their families.
Peggy Young was a part-time driver for UPS when she became pregnant in 2006. Young’s job description called for her to lift up to 70 pounds, so when her medical provider recommended that she not lift more than 20 pounds during her pregnancy, she requested a “light duty” assignment. UPS denied that request, which forced Young to take unpaid leave. Young challenged the UPS action in court, alleging that denying her a reasonable accommodation, while having a policy of modifying job assignments for other employees who were temporarily unable to fulfill their job responsibilities, violated the PDA. Lower courts ruled in favor of UPS. Young appealed to the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments in the case on December 3.
Filed in support of Young, the brief argues that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes clear that pregnant workers must be treated the same as other workers who are similar in their ability or inability to work. It also highlights how denying pregnant workers modest job modifications can force pregnant women to make impossible choices between ignoring the advice of their health care providers and continuing to work under conditions that could pose maternal and infant health risks, or being forced off the job and losing employer-sponsored health insurance, which can make it more difficult to obtain quality and consistent health care.
As the brief concludes: “Denying pregnant workers the same modest modifications afforded to other employees with similar work restrictions not only violates the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, it contravenes sound health, economic, and social policy. When an employer forces a pregnant woman to choose between her health care provider’s advice and her job, that choice can risk compromising her health and the health of her pregnancy.” It urges the Court to rule in favor of Young to ensure that employers can “no longer conduct business as though they are exempt from their obligations under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.”
The brief was filed on behalf of the National Partnership for Women & Families; the American College of Nurse-Midwives; the American College of Osteopathic Obstetricians & Gynecologists; the American Medical Women’s Association; the American Nurses Association; the American Public Health Association; National Advocates for Pregnant Women; the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health; the National Physicians Alliance; Physicians for Reproductive Health; Planned Parenthood Federation of America; and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine.
The case has brought together unusual allies in support of Young, including pro-choice, anti-choice, religious and bipartisan leaders.
The National Partnership for Women & Families helped lead the fight for the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and has advocated for its enforcement in the 36 years since its passage.
The brief is available online at: NationalPartnership.org/Young.
The National Partnership for Women & Families is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, access to quality health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family. More information is available at www.NationalPartnership.org.