The United Parcel Service (UPS) is changing its policy on light duty assignments for pregnant workers, even though the company will stand by its refusal to extend accommodations to a former employee in an upcoming Supreme Court case.

UPS announced on Monday in a memo to employees, and in a brief filed with the US Supreme Court, that the company will begin offering temporary, light-duty positions to pregnant workers on January 1, 2015. “UPS takes pride in attaining and maintaining best practices in the area of equal opportunity and employment, and has elected to change our approach to pregnancy accommodations,” the memo read. In the brief sent to the Supreme Court this week, the company said it “has voluntarily decided to provide additional accommodations for pregnancy-related physical limitations as a matter of corporate discretion.”

This change in policy does not mean UPS is admitting that it violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) when it denied former employee, Peggy Young, a light-duty work assignment when she became pregnant in 2006. That case, Young v. UPS, will be argued at the Supreme Court this December.

In fact, the company maintains that it committed no wrongdoing when it denied Young’s request for a light-duty assignment after her doctor recommended that Young not lift boxes more than 20 pounds – even though UPS had a policy of modifying job assignments for other employees temporarily unable to fulfill their job duties.

Advocates say that the UPS policy change only highlights that its treatment of Peggy Young unjustly denied her equal opportunity. “It undermines every argument they’ve been making,” said Emily Martin, Vice President and General Counsel of the National Women’s Law Center. “They said they couldn’t give pregnant workers like Peggy Young accommodations because of collective bargaining agreements, and because it would be unduly burdensome. Well, apparently that’s not true anymore.”

In a brief filed with the Supreme Court this week, attorneys for UPS wrote, that their policy change “is not required by the PDA,” but that “UPS’s revised policy is permitted under that statute and will aid operational consistency given that a number of States in which UPS operates have relatively recently mandated pregnancy accommodations.” That trend is the direct influence of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s new guidelines on accommodations for pregnant workers.

Peggy Young was a UPS driver in Landover, Maryland. After UPS denied Young’s request for a workplace accommodation, she was forced to take unpaid leave and lost her employer-provided medical coverage for the remainder of her pregnancy as well as her right to disability insurance benefits. Young sued the company, but lost in the lower courts which found that UPS’s policy of accommodating workers with disabilities or those injured on the job were “pregnancy-blind” and did not amount to impermissible sex discrimination under the PDA.

The US Supreme Court will now weigh in on whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act actually does what it says, which is protect pregnant workers from discrimination on the job. The case will be heard on December 3.

Media Resources: Washington Post 10/29/14; Supreme Court of the United States Brief 10/2014; National Partnership for Women and Families 7/2014; Feminist Newswire 7/16/14

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