In 2008, Peggy Young worked for UPS as a pickup and delivery driver. When she became pregnant, her doctor restricted her from lifting more than 20 pounds during her first 20 weeks of pregnancy and 10 pounds for the remainder. UPS placed Young on leave without pay because her job required her to be able to lift parcels weighing up to 70 pounds. UPS said they followed a “pregnancy-blind” policy that is nondiscriminatory by nature when they put her on leave. Young filed suit, claiming that her co-workers were willing to help her, and that UPS had a policy of accommodating other, non-pregnant drivers who suffered from disabilities, or who lost their Department of Transportation certifications. She brought suit against UPS under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1987 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
The U.S. Supreme Court found in Young’s favor after two lower courts had taken UPS’s side; however, they did not completely agree with her logic. Young said that employers are required to accommodate pregnant women when they provide an accommodation to any other non-pregnant employee who is similar in ability to work. The Court, however, said that under a “disparate treatment” theory of liability, the employee must show that she was intentionally discriminated against. They said that Young must demonstrate that the employer’s policies impose a “significant burden” on pregnant workers, and that the employer has not raised a “sufficiently strong” reason to justify that burden. In Young’s case, she had to show that UPS accommodates most non-pregnant employees with lifting limitations while categorically failing to accommodate pregnant employees with lifting limitations.
The Court clarified, however, that there is a high legal burden employers will have to meet in order to justify their policies or practices that provide accommodations to some categories of employees, but not to pregnant women. While the Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower court to determine whether UPS can meet this burden, the ramifications from the case have already changed EEOC guidelines for applying the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. What this means for businesses is that employers will have to be very careful if they accommodate some groups of employees without also accommodating pregnant employees.
1. Why do you think some employers are still refusing to comply with pregnant workers’ requests for temporary accommodations?
2. How is this an example of the integration of ethics and the law? What ethical principles are at stake here?
3. What would you have done if you were Peggy Young?
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