US Supreme Court on Pregnancy Discrimination

As a matter of prudent understanding, pregnancy discrimination involves treating a woman (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. Although, if a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, the employer or other covered entity must treat her in the same way as it treats any other temporarily disabled employee. Contrary to this, it is unlawful to harass a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. Harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Young v. United Parcel Service which is likely to come in June 2015, will determine whether employers must accommodate pregnant women in the workplace. The case involves a former driver for UPS who wanted a temporary assignment to avoid lifting heavy packages after she became pregnant in 2006. UPS refused to accommodate driver Peggy Young, who did not return to work until two months after she delivered her baby. The court is weighing whether the company’s actions violated the 36-year-old federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The decision will potentially affect many American women who continue to work throughout their pregnancies.

While the Atlanta-based package delivery company says that it would voluntarily offer pregnant women light duty starting in January, it contends that it complied with the law in Young’s case. The company states that its policies are “pregnancy-neutral,” and governed by a collective bargaining agreement that Young did not qualify for. The lower courts have all ruled in favor of UPS.

The question with the Supreme Court now is whether UPS was required to accommodate Young, 42, because it gave temporary assignments to some workers, including those who were injured on the job or had a condition that was covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has now adopted new enforcement guidance on pregnancy discrimination, including accommodations for pregnant workers. EEOC commissioner who has been pushing for new guidelines says- “This is an enduring problem in America’s workplaces – we’re not where we need to be with regard to fair, equal treatment of pregnant workers. We’re just not.”

The new guidelines say that pregnancy-related conditions can now be considered disabilities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which entitles workers to accommodations at work. Lactation, a controversial and disputed matter in the courts, is now considered a medical condition. A pregnant worker is now entitled to receive reasonable accommodations, like light duty work, even if she has not been injured on the job, which is at the heart of the Young case.

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