United Parcel Service came to the Supreme Court this morning to argue that it is pregnancy-blind, that it treats expectant female employees the same as any other employee injured off the job.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act 1978 says, “. . women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” The language sounds plain and the intent of the law obvious, but when applied it seems to be ambiguous.
When Peggy Young became pregnant and her doctor ordered her to not lift heavy objects she asked her employer, UPS, to put her on light-duty. Instead UPS placed her on unpaid leave, so she sued.
Young’s lawyer, University of Michigan law professor Samuel Bagenstos, argued that UPS made accommodations for three similar groups: those injured on the job, those covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act and employees whose driving licenses were suspended or revoked.
“Well, Ms Halligan, for the democratic process to work as it should, the PDA has to be given a fair reading,” said Justice Kagan. “And what we know about the PDA is that it was supposed to be about removing stereotypes of pregnant women as marginal workers.”
The lawyer for UPS, Caitlin Halligan, was questioned aggressively by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan. They asked so many questions that it was hard to get a sketch of Halligan since she was turned away when facing the two justices.