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Supreme Court’s “Blind Spot” On Women’s Issues Disappearing?

Jon Allison

Last week the Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision ruled in favor of former UPS driver Peggy Young and remanded her case to the lower court allowing her to proceed with her pregnancy discrimination claim.  Young became pregnant in 2006 and was advised by her doctors to request light duty work involving not lifting more than 20 pounds.  UPS routinely offered light duty work to employees who were injured on the job as well as employees who had physical limitations related to a disability.  UPS, however, refused Young’s request for light duty work.  Instead, UPS told her its policy was to treat pregnant women like employees who were injured outside of the workplace and not provide light duty work.  Young was forced to take unpaid leave and ultimately lost her health insurance before giving birth.
Justice Breyer wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor and Chief Justice Roberts.  In deciding to allow Young to pursue her case, Justice Breyer wrote “[w]hy, when the employer accommodated so many, could it not accommodate pregnant women as well?”  Justice Alito wrote his own concurring opinion, questioning the rationale for “treating pregnant drivers less favorably than at least some of its nonpregnant drivers who were reassigned to other jobs that they were physically capable of performing.”
This decision is important because it will likely prompt employers to accommodate pregnant employees more readily than in the past.  Employers will now have to grant pregnant employees accommodations if they have previously granted the same accommodations to groups of other employees with similar physical limitations.
While Young had a lot of support, many worried about what Justice Ginsburg has called the Court’s “blind spot” on women’s issues following a number of recent decisions, including rejecting an equal pay lawsuit and holding that corporations could decide when female employees should have access to contraception.
Justices Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy dissented from the majority opinion.
This case has received a lot of coverage.  For more, read articles in Reuters, Time, Politico, and Forbes.

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