Boston, MA

Today, the US Supreme Court ruled on the Young v UPS court case, a case regarding pregnancy accommodation for workers. The court ruled 6-3 to reverse the decision of the Fourth Circuit and remanded Peggy Young’s case for further proceedings.

This decision is a critical victory for pregnant workers in Massachusetts and across the nation. The Supreme Court made it clear that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of pregnancy. If a workplace accommodates most non-pregnant workers who need it but not most pregnant workers who need it, the employer may be found guilty of violating the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

However, this decision does not go far enough in protecting pregnant workers from discrimination in the workplace. Individual pregnant workers may still face uncertainty about their rights in the specific contexts of their own workplaces. This is why NARAL is calling on the Massachusetts Legislature to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (HB1769), which goes beyond this decision in ensuring that all pregnant workers are reasonably accommodated for conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. This bill would provide certainty for working women that their health comes first.

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Background on the Young v UPS Case (courtesy of the National Women’s Law Center):

Peggy Young is a former UPS worker who was forced to take unpaid leave because of her pregnancy. When Ms. Young told UPS she was pregnant, UPS required her to get a doctor’s note “listing her restrictions.” Her doctor’s note indicated that she should not lift more than 20 pounds; Ms. Young was willing to continue her regular duties because she rarely had to lift anything that heavy, but the senior manager at Ms. Young’s workplace told her that she was “too much of a liability” and she would have to go home until she was “no longer pregnant.” Meanwhile, UPS regularly provided so-called “light duty” and similar accommodations to people with disabilities, people with on-the-job injuries, and even people who had lost their commercial drivers’ licenses as a result of DUI convictions—but UPS refused to provide light duty to Peggy Young when she sought it. The Supreme Court was asked to decide whether UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act by forcing Mrs. Young to take unpaid leave rather than offering her the same work accommodations made available to these employees. Ms. Young filed her case in 2007, and her daughter, Triniti, is now 7 years old.

Background on the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (courtesy of MotherWoman):

HB1769 prevents discrimination based on pregnancy and requires employers to accommodate conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, including the need to express breast milk for a nursing child, unless such doing so would pose an undue hardship on the employer. Accommodations may include allowing a pregnant worker to use a stool while working at a cash register, or carry a bottle of water while on the job, without repercussions. Workers with disabilities, including temporary impairments, must already be accommodated, so this law will ensure equal treatment.

This legislation is critical because women who need income but lack accommodations are often forced to continue working under unhealthy conditions, risking their own health as well as the health of their babies. Physically demanding work, where accommodations are more often necessary but too often unavailable, has been associated with an increased risk for preterm birth and low birth weight. Stress from job loss can increase the risk of a premature baby and/or a baby with low birth weight—risks that may be avoided with a simple modification to keep a woman on the job.

HB1769 will promote women’s economic security during a critical time that is often filled with financial hardship, and would save taxpayers money in the form of unemployment insurance and other public benefits. Employers benefit too, from reduced turnover and increased productivity. Legislation would provide clarity so employers can anticipate their responsibilities and avoid costly litigation.

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