March 25, 2015
The Supreme Court of the United States upheld pregnant women's rights in the workplace Wednesday with its ruling on Young v. United Parcel Service (UPS), a pregnancy discrimination case argued by Michigan Law Professor Sam Bagenstos.
"The Court made clear that employers may not refuse to accommodate pregnant workers based on considerations of cost or convenience when they accommodate other workers," said Bagenstos, who represented plaintiff Peggy Young before the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 3, 2014.
In 2006, UPS denied Young the light-duty work she requested during her pregnancy. While such assignments were available, and given to some workers with similar restrictions, UPS denied Young and placed her on unpaid leave. District and appeals courts ruled against Young in her attempts to seek back pay and damages.
However, in a 6-3 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Young, and plaintiffs like her, can win employment discrimination lawsuits if they can show that an employer refused to provide accommodation available to a large number of similar workers and that the employer lacked sufficiently strong reasons for denying the accommodation. Cost and inconvenience are not among these reasons, the Court wrote.
"The Court recognized that a ruling for UPS would have thwarted Congress’s intent in passing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act," said Bagenstos, an expert in civil rights and employment discrimination law, and the former number-two official in the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. "It's a big step forward towards enforcing the principle that a woman shouldn't have to choose between her pregnancy and her job."
Vacating the decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court with specific guidelines that now allow Young to sue under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.
Read the full opinion.
Photo courtesy of Elena Peifer, '14.
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