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SCOTUS says pregnancy discrimination case can move forward

While it’s truly unfortunate, the simple reality is that many employees will experience some sort of discriminatory actions after informing their employers that they are expecting a child. While these discriminatory actions may be fairly obvious, such as demotion or even termination after announcing the pregnancy, they can also prove to be more low key yet equally insidious, such as discrepancies in pay or failures to make accommodations.

Fortunately, we may be seeing more employers held accountable for pregnancy discrimination thanks to a recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that at least one legal expert has hailed as a “big win … for all women in the workplace.” 

In Young v. United Parcel Service, the plaintiff, employed by the shipping giant, learned she was pregnant back in 2006, and was informed by her physician that she would be unable to lift anything over 20 pounds for the first 20 weeks of her pregnancy.

When she approached her employer for the necessary light duty accommodations, it refused saying that its internal, pregnancy neutral policy only granted such requests for employees injured on the job, employees covered by the Americans with Disability Act and employees who lost their certification from the Department of Transportation.

The plaintiff, forced to take an unpaid leave for nine months, ultimately filed a lawsuit against UPS, claiming that this policy violated that section of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act calling for employers to the treat their pregnant employees in the same manner as other employees “similar in their ability or inability to work.”

Here, the plaintiff essentially argued in her lawsuit that she must be granted the requested light duty accommodations given that such accommodations were already being offered to other UPS employees who were similarly limited in their workplace abilities.

While her case was initially dismissed, an action affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, SCOTUS ultimately granted certiorari.

In a recent 6-3 decision, the nation’s high court reversed this decision and sent the case back to the appellate court, finding that the plaintiff can indeed “create a genuine issue of material fact” by submitting evidence showing that her former employer “accommodates a large percentage of non-pregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers.”  

“Why, when the employer accommodated so many, could it not accommodate pregnant women as well? ” asked Justice Breyer in the majority opinion, which also made clear that an employer may not cite either expense or inconvenience as a rationale for refusing to grant similar accommodations for pregnant women.

According to legal experts, while the effect of the ruling is narrow, it should nevertheless serve to make it far easier for women who believe that their rights under the PDA have been violated to have their day in the court.

What this case also serves to illustrate is that you do have rights and options in the event that you’ve been victimized by pregnancy discrimination, and that it’s imperative to consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

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