On Safety

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Should pregnant women be treated as injured workers?

March 30, 2015

Peggy Young was working as a part-time driver for UPS when she became pregnant and her doctor advised her not to lift more than 20 pounds. However, her job required her to lift up to 70 pounds.

Instead of UPS accommodating Young with a “light duty” assignment as it does with injured workers, the company placed her on an unpaid leave of absence without health benefits. In response, Young filed suit by alleging UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Her argument: UPS accommodates other individuals with work restrictions similar to hers. So, she claims, by not offering Young light duty, UPS was discriminating against its pregnant employees.

UPS argued that it didn’t discriminate against Young because her pregnancy was not an on-the-job injury, nor did it fall into categories covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Department of Transportation.

The district court judge overseeing the lawsuit sided with UPS, and Young’s case was later unanimously dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. However, in a 6-3 ruling on March 25, the Supreme Court overturned that decision and ordered the appellate court to look into Young’s claims.

“Viewing the record in the light most favorable to Young, there is a genuine dispute as to whether UPS provided more favorable treatment to at least some employees whose situation cannot reasonably be distinguished from Young’s,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion.

Interestingly, while the Supreme Court case was pending, UPS reversed its policy and now tries to better accommodate pregnant women.

What do you think? Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are required to accommodate disabled workers – does it matter if the “disability” stems from an injury or a pregnancy? Let me know in the comments below.

The opinions expressed in "On Safety" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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