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Supreme Court decision considered a win for pregnant employee rights

Roughly 36 years ago, members of the 1978 Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act which effectively prohibited employers from discriminating against an employee based upon her pregnancy status. Despite the law and the protections it affords, since 1978 there have been many pregnant women who have come forward to report being fired, harassed or otherwise disciplined by an employer.

2010 statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that women comprise 47 percent of the U.S. labor force. Given this significant figure, which is only expected to increase, one may assume that U.S. employers are accustomed to following provisions laid out in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Unfortunately, during 2013 alone, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that more than 5,300 pregnancy discrimination claims were filed with the agency. This number is compared to the roughly 3,900 that were filed nearly 20 years ago, representing a 36 percent increase.

Most recently, the United States Supreme Court weighed in on the matter when it ruled in favor of Peggy Young, a woman who in 2008 sued the United Parcel Service citing pregnancy discrimination. At issue in the case was whether UPS acted in violation of federal law when the company refused to provide light-duty accommodations while Young was pregnant.

In its ruling, members of the Supreme Court aimed to determine how certain provisions of the 1978 federal law should be interpreted. Specifically the law asserts that "employers must treat pregnant women the same as 'other persons not so affected [by pregnancy] but similar in their ability or inability to work."

Workers who suffer an injury on the job or who are considered disabled are offered employment protections related to reasonable work accommodations. Therefore, Young's attorneys argued that UPS should offer similar accommodations to pregnant employees.

Based upon the Supreme Court's six to three ruling in favor of Young, it appears that employers would be wise to think twice before denying a pregnant employee accommodations that were provided to other employees.

Source: Fortune Magazine, "UPS loses Supreme Court pregnancy discrimination case," Claire Zillman, March 25, 2015

The New York Times, "UPS Worker’s Pregnancy Discrimination Suit Reinstated by Supreme Court," Adam Liptak, March 25, 2015

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