BY JENNIFER FERRIS This week the Supreme Court is considering the case of Peggy Young, a Maryland mom who lost her job at UPS–and her benefits–when she showed up to work pregnant. Although a 1978 law makes it illegal to discriminate against pregnant women at work, the courts have found this to be a far murkier issue.
The problem was the nature of Young’s work– she was a delivery driver whose doctor instructed her not to lift packages of more than 20 pounds. Although her work at an airport seldom required heavy lifting, UPS refused to let her keep her position. The company also refused to reassign her to light duty for the nine months of her pregnancy. Young was left without insurance and without the pay she needed to sustain her family.
Although at first glimpse this feels like clear discrimination, UPS claims that it never employs people who cannot perform the physical aspects of their jobs. A man in a wheelchair wouldn’t work loading trucks, for instance, or a blind woman couldn’t drive a forklift. It;s not discrimination is the person can’t do the job.
What the courts have to consider is whether a temporary limitation–pregnancy– creates a situation that an employer must accommodate, like it might when someone needs light duty after a heart condition, or while they are recovering from a procedure.
I know the courts don’t rule based on instinct, or gut feelings, but in this case I wish they would. Taking care of pregnant women, ensuring they earn enough to feed their families and have the health care they need, should be an inalienable right. An employer firing a woman because she’s pregnant is outrageous. It’s shocking. It should not be allowed.
Although some states give extra protections to pregnant or nursing women, North Carolina employers are bound only by the federal law, which prevents pregnancy discrimination. If the Supreme Court finds that UPS was not discriminating, it opens the door for thousands of NC women to be kicked out of their jobs, simply because their employer doesn’t feel like paying a pregnant woman.
I worked at Trader Joes through my eighth month of pregnancy. Spending eight-hour shifts on my feet while a baby danced on my bladder was not fun, to say the least. But that burden was mine to bear, not my employers’. They made sure I got frequent bathroom breaks and relieved me from any duty that involved lifting.
Trader Joes is a physically intense workplace, most positions you can’t really work unless you can pick up 50 pounds without issue. But my supervisors found a way to make it work. I was a member of the team and, as such, I deserved to be treated with respect and care, just as any team member should.
There’s certain jobs for which no accommodation could be given for a pregnant woman– skydive instructor comes to mind– but for a large employer with a multitude of positions, there should be no excuse. Even if the law says otherwise.