Supreme Court Gives UPS Worker Another Shot at Pregnancy Discrimination Suit

March 25, 2015 Updated: March 25, 2015

The Supreme Court has ruled in a 6–3 vote to allow a UPS driver to have her pregnancy discrimination case against the company go to trial, overturning a lower court decision in favor of the delivery company.

“In our view, the [Pregnancy Discrimination] Act requires courts to consider the extent to which an employer’s policy treats pregnant workers less favorably than it treats nonpregnant workers similar in their ability or inability to work,”Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority.

As a driver for UPS, Peggy Young was tasked with lifting heavy boxes that weighed up to 70 pounds. After she became pregnant, Young’s doctor advised her to not lift boxes weighing more than 20 pounds, and she asked UPS to be put on “light duty.” UPS refused, giving her the option of continuing to work as usual or take unpaid leave, prompting Young to sue.

Previously, a Court of Appeals granted a summary judgment in favor of UPS. The Supreme Court overruled that decision, giving Young a chance at a trial to prove her case.

“UPS is pleased that the Supreme Court rejected the argument that UPS’s pregnancy-neutral policy was inherently discriminatory. Instead, the Supreme Court adopted a new standard for evaluating pregnancy discrimination claims without ruling for either party,” UPS said in a statement. “We are confident that those courts will find that UPS did not discriminate against Ms. Young under this newly announced standard.”

Still, since Young’s lawsuit, UPS has reformed its work policies to accommodate pregnant workers. In October, it changed its policy to allow pregnant women to work on light-duty shifts rather than go on unpaid leave.

The crux of the majority decision is that because UPS accommodates workers with disabilities that prevent them from lifting heavy boxes, not giving the same treatment to Young could be tantamount to discrimination against pregnant workers.

“Young created a genuine dispute as to whether UPS provided more favorable treatment to at least some employees whose situation cannot reasonably be distinguished from hers,” Breyer wrote.

Writing for the dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia warned that the decision could have sweeping consequences by broadening the liabilities for pregnant discriminatory suits from the disparate impact standard to a disparate treatment one.

“The change in labels may be small, but the change in results assuredly is not,” Scalia wrote. “Plaintiffs in disparate-treatment cases can get compensatory and punitive damages as well as equitable relief, but plaintiffs in disparate impact cases can get equitable relief only.”