When Peggy Young became pregnant in 2006, she needed her job’s health benefits at UPS the most. But instead of being given a new light-duty job or offered the chance to continue her regular job so long as she didn’t lift anything heavier than 20 pounds, Young was forced out of work. For the last six and a half months of her pregnancy, not only was she on unpaid leave, which caused financial distress, but she lost her health insurance. In a 2013 post on the National Women’s Law Center website, Young stated, “What started as a very happy pregnancy became one of the most stressful times of my life.”
But Young didn’t let UPS have the last word: Instead, she took them to court. Her case, Peggy Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., alleged that UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. It made it all the way up to the Supreme Court, which will hear the case on Dec. 3. How the Supreme Court rules will have a huge impact on working women across the nation—and people are taking notice.
On Nov. 24, the Center for American Progress, the National Women’s Law Center and the National Partnership for Women & Families hosted a webinar on pregnancy job discrimination and Young v. UPS. Several experts, including Michele Jawando, Rachel Lyons, Diane Feldman and Emily Martin, discussed the case, the historical context of pregnancy discrimination and information on how to take action—and it’s clear that Young has already made a difference for pregnant workers.
Despite losing her case in the lower courts and on appeal, Young forged ahead and appealed to the nation’s highest court. Perhaps UPS started feeling the pressure as the court date drew nearer, because on Oct. 27, the company announced an official change to its policy for pregnant workers. Starting Jan. 1, UPS will offer temporary light-duty positions to pregnant workers, not just to workers who have been injured on the job (which was previously allowed). UPS stated in a brief to the court:
On a going forward basis, UPS has voluntarily decided to provide additional accommodations for pregnancy-related physical limitations as a matter of corporate discretion. UPS’s new policy provides: “Light-duty work will be provided as an accommodation to pregnant employees with lifting or other physical restrictions to the same extent as such work is available as an accommodation to employees with similar restrictions resulting from on-the-job injuries.”
Being forced into unpaid leave affects pregnant workers on a grand scale: the National Partnership for Women & Families estimates that a quarter million women are denied requests each year for work accommodations during their respective pregnancies. At least at UPS, this will no longer be the case starting first thing in 2015. And it’s safe to say Young can take credit for that.
Hopefully this achievement will help pave the way for what comes next: the Supreme Court’s ruling. For decades, employers have been able to find and exploit loopholes in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), which amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.” This led to one of the big questions addressed in the webinar, which was, “does the PDA actually mean what it says?” The upcoming Peggy Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. ruling has the power to make the PDA virtually airtight and erase exploitable loopholes. In an issue brief, The National Partnership for Women & Families stated,
A Supreme Court decision in favor of Peggy Young would clarify that pregnant women with temporary physical limitations must be treated the same as other workers with temporary physical limitations. Pregnant women would be granted reasonable accommodations if other workers with temporary physical limitations are accommodated…A Supreme Court decision in favor of UPS would deal a critical blow to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act’s effectiveness, enabling employers to evade the law’s requirements.
In the campaign for fair and equitable treatment of pregnant workers, Peggy Young has made a difference and drawn many individuals and organizations to rally around her. Those at UPS who are considering pregnancy no longer have to worry that they’ll be out of a job once they’re a few months along. But pregnant workers in all sorts of employment, from healthcare institutions to the aisles of Walmart, still face the reality of discrimination. Let’s hope that the Supreme Court rules in favor of equitable treatment of pregnant workers with thanks to Young’s perseverance for paving the way.
To support Young and the rights of pregnant workers, activists are holding a Stand With Pregnant Workers rally on the steps of the Supreme Court the day of the court hearing, followed by a virtual rally using the hashtag #StandWithPeggy.
Photo via Shutterstock.
Corinne Gaston is currently an editorial intern at Ms. and is working toward a B.A. in Creative Writing at USC. When not in the Ms. office, she is the Associate Opinion Editor at Neon Tommy. Follow her on Twitter @elysehamsa or go to her personal blog.