The United States has come a long way in protecting women’s rights, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over. From anti-choice laws to sexist hiring practices to misogynistic politicians, women continue to face barriers throughout society. It’s easy to lose hope, but as a recent Supreme Court case shows, for every loss, there are victories.
Young v. United Parcel Service centered around a UPS worker named Peggy Young, who had worked for the shipping giant since 2002. She became pregnant in 2006 and, following her midwife’s advice, requested that she be allowed to perform light duties or work as a truck driver in order to reduce the strain on her body. Not only did UPS refuse to let her do these jobs, but fearing that she was a liability, they forced her to take an unpaid leave of absence, causing her to lose her health insurance. This put financial strain on Young and her family. With the help of her lawyer Katherine Kimpel, she decided to strike back.
Young filed her lawsuit in October of 2008 and has been patiently waiting for recognition ever since. UPS has since changed its policy toward pregnant workers, offering them the right to perform light duties, but refused to recognize Young’s discrimination claims, arguing that is actions were lawful at the time. Previous courts had ruled against Young, but last week’s Supreme Court case was a victory, arguing that UPS’s actions violated the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
What It Means
The Supreme Court’s decision could have wide-reaching affects for working mothers and women’s rights. The court ruled that companies that provide accommodations for injured or disabled workers must provide similar accommodations to pregnant women. It makes exceptions only for companies that can demonstrate compelling reasons for not accommodating pregnant women. This does not guarantee that Young will win her own court case– the Supreme Court remanded the decision to a lower court, which will decide whether UPS meets the new burden of proof– but it does mean that businesses cannot place a greater burden on pregnant women than on other workers without a “sufficiently strong” reason. More than 5,000 women file pregnancy discrimination lawsuits each year; with this ruling, a much larger portion of them can expect to win.
What’s Left To Do
As important as this ruling is, it isn’t a silver bullet against discrimination. The court was vague about what constitutes a “sufficiently strong” reason for refusing to accommodate pregnant women, specifying only that employers cannot site cost or inconvenience. We must put constant on businesses to prevent them from exploiting loopholes in the court’s ruling. Know your rights, and if you become pregnant, pay close attention to your employers’ and co-workers’ actions. The more evidence you have, the more difficult it will be for your employer to deny discrimination charges..