Good News For Working Women

On Behalf of | March 25, 2015 | Gender Discrimination, Harassment

It’s not every day that we get to report good news for working women – especially that there is good news for working women coming from the Supreme Court.  Today is one of those days.

As we’ve previously written, the Supreme Court was considering the case of Young v. UPS.   That case raised questions about what the Pregnancy Discrimination Act really meant and how much protection, if any, it provided to pregnant women needing accommodations.

Today, a majority of the Supreme Court issued an opinion that helps working women in at least three different and very important ways.  The five justices who ruled for employees were the Justices we know won’t put corporate interests over that of employees (Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan), along with Chief Justice Roberts.  Justice Alito also filed a concurring opinion.  It is a rare occurrence where you see 5-6 justices coming together to issue an opinion that protects employees and that fact alone is a reason to celebrate.  But let’s get to the really good stuff: what they said that helps working women:

First, Peggy Young – who has been fighting this battle since 2007 – finally will get her day in court.  She gets to go to trial, where UPS will have to answer for itself in front of a jury.  UPS decided to accommodate other workers but not pregnant women, and that decision – unlike so many other corporate ones – is actually going to be put to the test.   In short, this isn’t a good day for UPS.

Second, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act has teeth.  Pregnant women can’t be given least-favored-nation status.  They can’t be treated worse than everyone else.  If a company accommodates other employees – let’s other people carry water bottles, take extra breaks, have a stool at their workstation, or spend a few weeks or months doing office work instead of heavy lifting – then it better think twice about saying no to the pregnant woman who asks for the same support.

Third, our antidiscrimination laws more generally still matter.  Some of what UPS’ lawyers (and other organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) argued, inherently relied on the idea that employees should face legal hurdles that are increasingly rigid and stringent when asserting claims under our antidiscrimination laws.  The majority opinion rejected those arguments as well, noting that legal guidelines applying to employment discrimination cases are “not intended to be inflexible” and  “not onerous.” Remember, Chief Justice Roberts signed onto this, meaning that the comfort employees can take in these assurances should be that much stronger.

This is a good decision.  This is a good day – especially for the seventy-five percent of women entering the workforce today who will become pregnant at least once while employed.