United Parcel Service has reached a settlement with former UPS air driver Peggy Young, concluding a nine-year pregnancy discrimination case that reached all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The parties filed to dismiss the case this morning in a reportedly amicable settlement, the details of which were not released. “We are grateful that this case has finally come to a just conclusion, and we thank UPS and its counsel for their cooperation,” said Young’s attorney Sharon Fast Gustafson. “Not many victims of discrimination would have had the grit that Peggy Young displayed in sustaining this struggle for nine years.”
When Young discovered that she was pregnant, UPS denied her doctor-recommended request for light duty assignment and forced to take unpaid medical leave without health insurance, despite UPS granting similar requests for other employees with disabilities or injuries. Young sued, but the federal district court dismissed her case without a trial, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the ruling against her, finding 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 federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
The Supreme Court reversed the lower courts in March 2015, allowing Young’s case to finally go to trial. By that time, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had issued new enforcement guidance related to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act clarifying protections for pregnant workers and UPS itself officially changed its pregnant worker policy allowing pregnant workers to be placed on light duty assignments.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), championed by the National Organization for Women and Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, then-president of NOW, was passed in 1978. The law prohibits employers from legally discriminating against pregnant women in hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, career development, or benefits. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act expanded economic opportunities for women, helped women maintain job stability, protected women against lost wages and costs associated with job loss, and contributed to families’ overall financial well-being. Yet, pregnancy discrimination in the workplace has persisted, with many pregnant women fired or forced to take unpaid leave. That’s why advocates are calling on Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act (PWFA), which would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees.
The root of pregnancy discrimination, however, is sex discrimination. In her book, Equal Means Equal, Jessica Neuwirth, President of the ERA Coalition, traces pregnancy discrimination to the presumption “clearly based on sex” that “a worker is someone who does not become pregnant.” The U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled that pregnancy discrimination is not sex discrimination prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment, something that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was supposed to remedy, but hasn’t. Neuwirth argues that this type of persistent discrimination shows the continued urgent need for the Equal Rights Amendment, a constitutional amendment prohibiting discrimination based on sex.
“An Equal Rights Amendment,” she writes, “could change the legal landscape by creating a right to sex equality that is fundamental and substantive. What this might mean in the context of pregnancy is recognition that women and men have equal rights to work and have children at the same time. It would require recognition that women and men have biological differences and that the workplace cannot be structured solely around the biology of men.”
Resolutions supporting ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment have been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate.
Media Resources: Office of Sharon Fast Gustafson, Press Release 10/1/15; Feminist Newswire 7/3/14; 12/3/14; 10/30/14; 3/27/15; 5/15/15; National Women’s Law Center 6/18/13; Congress.gov; Jessica Neuwirth, Equal Means Equal (2015)