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Lawmakers, Groups File Briefs in Support of Woman in Supreme Court Pregnancy Discrimination Case

Lawmakers, Groups File Briefs in Support of Woman in Supreme Court Pregnancy Discrimination Case

September 12, 2014 — Dozens of Democratic members of Congress, advocacy groups, business leaders and a bipartisan coalition of state legislators have filed friend-of-the-court briefs urging the Supreme Court to side with a former UPS driver in her pregnancy discrimination case, the Washington Post reports.

The briefs argue that the court should ensure that pregnant women can receive reasonable accommodations that enable them to continue working during pregnancy (Schulte, Washington Post, 9/11).

Background of Lawsuit

The Supreme Court announced this summer that it would hear the case in its upcoming term. The lawsuit involves UPS employee Peggy Young, who was denied a light-duty assignment that would have allowed her to continue working during her pregnancy. Young took an unpaid leave of absence and returned to her job after giving birth but lost her employer-sponsored health benefits during the leave of absence.

She sued UPS under the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PL 95-555). A federal judge and a Virginia-based appeals court both ruled against Young, finding that UPS' policy treated pregnant and non-pregnant employees alike.

Young in her appeal to the Supreme Court argued that the PDA requires employers to accommodate pregnant workers' needs in the same way that they would accommodate workers with comparable "ability or inability to work," regardless of the origin of a worker's condition.

Meanwhile, UPS in court filings has said that the company acted lawfully because it used criteria other than pregnancy to determine which employees were eligible for light duty (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/2).

Brief From Members of Congress

In their brief, 99 Democratic House lawmakers, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), and 24 Democratic senators urged the Supreme Court to rule that pregnant workers have the right to reasonable accommodations so they are not forced to leave their jobs. They argued that current provisions of federal law are designed with the intention to "ensure that pregnant women were no longer treated as second-class citizens on the job" (Yen, AP/Huffington Post, 9/11).

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said of the case, "We shouldn't have to debate this issue in the 21st century. But the facts of this case make clear that far too many pregnant women suffer workplace discrimination."

Other Briefs

In a separate brief, the American Civil Liberties Union and A Better Balance said that pregnant workers are regularly denied accommodations available to other categories of workers.

Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney for the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, said, "The only people being pushed out of their jobs and forced onto unpaid leave are going to be pregnant women. It's really sex discrimination that's at stake." She added that this results in women being forced out of jobs that could continue with accommodations, resulting in hardships such as losing their health insurance and housing (Washington Post, 9/11).

Meanwhile, another brief from a group of 12 organizations that work to improve maternal and infant health argued, "Denying pregnant workers the same modest modifications afforded to other employees with similar work restrictions not only violates the [PDA], it contravenes sound health, economic, and social policy," adding, "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."

The National Partnership for Women & Families, which worked to help enact the PDA, led the organizations in filing the brief, which was joined by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American College of Nurse-Midwives, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, the American Public Health Association and National Advocates for Pregnant Women, among several other groups (National Partnership release, 9/12).

In addition, the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce filed a brief arguing that providing pregnant women with reasonable accommodations is important to the U.S. economy.

Next Steps in Supreme Court Case

The deadline to submit amicus briefs in support of Young was Thursday. Briefs in support of UPS are due in October, and the Supreme Court is scheduled to begin oral arguments on Dec. 3 (Washington Post, 9/11).