Pregnant Driver's UPS Suit Hits Supreme Court

A lawsuit filed by a UPS driver against the delivery and transportation company has hit the Supreme Court, which listens to oral arguments today. Potentially at stake could be how employers could interpret the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was meant to prevent sexual discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to some legal experts, a Supreme Court decision could affect whether the Act could effectively demand that pregnant women receive preferential treatment over other workers, including non-pregnant women.

Peggy Young started working for UPS in 1999 and became a driver in 2002. According to court records, in 2006 she was an early-morning part-time driver working out of Landover, Maryland. After finishing her rounds by 10 a.m., Young would then work a second job delivering flowers. She asked for a leave of absence in July 2006 to undergo in vitro fertilization, which was successful.

In September, Young gave her supervisor a doctor's note instructing that she was not to lift more than 20 pounds. UPS said that her continued employment was impossible so long as she had the lifting restriction. Young argued that she rarely had to handle heavier packages and that, if she did, she could use a hand truck or get help from another UPS employee.

UPS did have a policy in place that offered light duty work to employees who were injured on the job, who came under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), or who had lost their government driving certification. The company said it would not extend that policy to pregnancy and eventually put Young on unpaid leave. Young was unable to continue payments for her health insurance, and lost it. She eventually gave birth in 2007 and returned to work.

Young filed a charge with the EEOC in July of that year and ultimately brought the suit in October 2008. UPS argued that to make an exception for her would be preferential treatment over other workers, including non-pregnant women who were injured off the job who wouldn't therefore be eligible for light duty reassignments.

Changes to the ADA and recent guidance from the EEOC would make the UPS decision difficult to legally justify today, said Dianne G. Moretzsohn, a lawyer with the law firm McCausland Keen & Buckman, in an interview with AOL Jobs.

"The definition of disability has been broadened," Moretzsohn said. Now the law requires the "rules of construction for interpreting what substantially limits a major life activity" to be "construed as broadly as possible." Under the ADA, UPS might today have to grant the request. Indeed, the company already changed its policy.

But that doesn't mean the eventual Supreme Court decision is only academic, according to Barry Hartstein, co-chair of the EEO & Diversity Practice and at labor and employment law firm Littler Mendelson.

"The question is whether you're going to interpret the sex discrimination statute to give pregnant female workers preferential treatment over other workers," Hartstein told AOL Jobs.

Practically speaking, however, Hartstein thinks that "companies will make a reasonable accommodation and not get into a big analysis of whether someone's covered."
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