Supreme Court’s ruling a victory for Peggy Young, but not enough for all pregnant workers

The Supreme Court’s decision in Young v UPS is an important victory for Peggy Young and pregnant workers. Peggy Young was a United Parcel Service driver forced to take unpaid leave when she was pregnant and denied the “light duty” that her medical provider prescribed and that many of her co-workers were provided for non-pregnancy related medical conditions and even for drivers unable to drive due to DUIs.

The court’s decision tells employers that if they are providing accommodations for most non-pregnant workers who have injuries or disabilities, while refusing to accommodate most pregnant workers who need it, they are likely violating the Pregnancy Discrimination Act by placing a significant burden on pregnant workers. The decision represents important progress for pregnant workers.

But the decision doesn’t solve all pregnancy discrimination problems. Individual pregnant workers may still face uncertainty about their rights depending on the specific contexts of their own workplaces.  Thirty-five years after the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnancy discrimination still occurs far too often. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 5,797 pregnancy-related discrimination complaints in 2011, from all sectors of the economy.

Employers often refuse to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. Pregnant workers have been fired for needing temporary, minor adjustments in their job duties, as simple and sensible as carrying a bottle of water on the sales floor or avoiding heavy lifting. Pregnant workers are being forced to choose between the health of their pregnancies and the necessity of earning a living. Women who want and need to continue working throughout their pregnancies have been fired, forced to quit or take unpaid leave.

Stacey, a young working mother and member of 9to5 Atlanta, was eight months pregnant with her second child and sprained her ankle. She brought in a doctor’s note saying that she needed to stay off her foot for two days.  Because her employer was not required to accommodate her injury, he fired her, saying that she could reapply for her position once her child was born.  Stacey has been an active member of 9to5 since that time.  She continues to speak out, contacting legislators and encouraging friends and family to join current efforts to protect pregnant workers.

It’s because of inequities faced by women like Stacey and Peggy Young that 9to5 is supporting the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), to ensure that pregnant women can work safely during their pregnancies while supporting their families.

Seventy-one percent of mothers are working outside the home. And with forty percent of those women serving as the primary breadwinner, families are suffering when pregnant women lose their jobs. Women in low-wage jobs, a group disproportionately made up of women of color and immigrant workers, are especially affected by workplace pregnancy discrimination. When pregnant women are fired, not only do they lose vital income, but they struggle to re-enter a job market that is harsh for the unemployed, and mothers and pregnant women in particular.

Modeled on the Americans with Disabilities Act, the PWFA is a commonsense bill that requires employers to make the same types of accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions that they already make for disabilities. Many states have already taken this action. Now it’s time for Congress to do the same, so that women who are pregnant will be treated fairly in the workplace and be able to achieve economic security for themselves and their families.

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