Big Win For Pregnant Women Who Temporarily Need To Sit Down
A pregnant woman who was denied an accommodation from heavy-lifting duties during her pregnancy has won the right to at least argue her case at trial. Two conservative justices sided with the woman against a large corporation, resulting in a 6-3 ruling on behalf of the woman. It might not seem like much, but this is a good day for pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, and men and women who may need their pregnant spouses to keep their jobs.
Peggy Young was told by her midwife that she shouldn't be lifting more than 20lbs as her pregnancy progressed. But Young was a UPS driver, and the job requirements specify that drivers must be able to lift 70 lbs. Young asked to be put on "light duty," but UPS refused to give her that accommodation. That's interesting because UPS will make an accommodation if you, say, break your arm on the job. But they won't if you break your arm at paintball on the weekend. UPS felt that Young was not "injured" on the job, and thus wasn't entitled to an accommodation.
Young sued. There's a law called the Pregnancy Discrimination Act which prohibits treating pregnant employees differently than other employees who are "similar in their ability, or inability, to work." For those playing along at home, breaking your arm in your free time does not put you into a class that is "protected" by anti-discrimination laws. Getting pregnant does. UPS argued that it didn't discriminate against Young because she was pregnant. UPS said that Young was treated the same as any other worker who was "not injured."
It's a twisted use of anti-discrimination language, but one you see a lot from people who don't like to think critically. Treating everybody "the same" is not the same as treating everybody equally. Treating a dog and turtle equally might involve giving both animals food. But giving both animals the same food would be both unhelpful, stupid, and likely result in Sarah McLachlan singing a song outside your house.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the UPS logic, and upheld a dismissal of Young's case on summary judgment. That is to say the appeals court found that Young's argument was so ridiculous that it didn't require a finding of fact by a jury. Duh, a man with a baby Bjorn could pick up that box, why can't you, bitch?
Young appealed to the Supreme Court. But then UPS found itself in a high-profile case arguing that a pregnant woman shouldn't be given the same accommodation as a dude with a backache... which was a bad look. UPS, while the case was still in the system, decided to change its policy. The company maintained that it hadn't treated Young illegally, but also wanted people to know that it would never behave that way again, out of the goodness of its heart or something.

The majority opinion from the Supreme Court, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, was as limited and narrow as possible. The Court didn't find that Young was discriminated against, just that she had the right to make her case at trial. We'll see how that goes. UPS has changed its policy and certainly doesn't want people to use FedEx or other companies that don't use pregnant women like pack mules. I expect settlement negotiations with Young to proceed forthwith.
But as I said, two conservative justices joined the liberals on this issue. Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the Breyer opinion. Roberts was conceived when an S corporation ejaculated into a briefcase, so his vote was a bit surprising.
But Justice Samuel Alito, who could be the villain in a Lifetime movie with his odious opinions on women's rights, wrote a whole concurring opinion supporting Young's claims! From Alito's concurrence:
[I]t is not at all clear that [UPS] had any neutral business ground for treating pregnant drivers less favorably than at least some of its nonpregnant drivers who were reassigned to other jobs that they were physically capable of performing.
I read the whole opinion waiting for Alito to patronize all women with quips about upper body strength or how lady parts makes wifting wheavy woxes whard. But it never happened. I guess Alito likes women, so long as they're knocked up.
Justice Antonin Scalia, not so much. From his dissent:
The most natural way to understand the same-treatment clause is that an employer may not distinguish between pregnant women and others of similar ability or inability because of pregnancy. Here, that means pregnant women are entitled to accommodations on the same terms as other workers with disabling conditions. If a pregnant woman is denied an accommodation under a policy that does not discriminate against pregnancy, she has been "treated the same" as everyone else.
But she has not been treated the same as some non-pregnant workers who otherwise can't lift a lot. UPS excluded pregnancy from its list of "conditions where it's okay to not lift things for a couple of months." That is discriminating against pregnant people. UPS is also discriminating against weak people, lazy people, and people who are temporarily too drunk to lift a heavy box. BUT THOSE PEOPLE ARE NOT PROTECTED BY LAW. Pregnant women are protected.
Or I should say "still are protected," thanks to this ruling.