On Wednesday, a case of women’s rights comes before the Supreme Court: pregnancy protection in the workplace. The justices will be asked to decide whether an employer is obligated to provide ‘light duty’ or other accommodations to a pregnant employee.

According to Entrepreneur, employers have widely varying interpretations of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. Some employers have read this as a requirement to accommodate the needs of a pregnant employee, and others simply treat pregnancy as a condition requiring no special treatment.

The case in question is that of Peggy Young, who found herself unable to work when her employer, UPS, refused to place her on light duty during her pregnancy in 2006. She’d been told by a midwife not to lift packages over 20 pounds, and as a delivery driver, often needed to lift heavier items.

Denied the accommodation, Young went on unpaid leave, instead, and filed suit. The Fourth Circuit Court ruled against her, saying she’d failed to show prima facie — she hadn’t brought sufficient evidence that there was a case to be heard. (The Tenth Circuit, the petition notes, differed on the matter, saying that simply showing that a pregnant woman had not received accommodations equal with those given to temporarily disabled employees was enough to establish prima facie.)

According the the petition to the court, UPS would like the case to be set aside — they say other nondiscrimination laws, specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act, passed since then would prevent there ever being a repeat of the incident. The plaintiffs say the ADAAA doesn’t address pregnancy, and are asking for a clear ruling from the Supreme Court. Pregnancy protections for employees, they say, are actually at risk under the Fourth Circuit ruling — if it is allowed to stand, other employers will deny equal accommodation to pregnant employees.

Notably, the Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuit courts have also made rulings consistent with this from the Fourth Circuit, so a ruling in Young’s favor might spark new cases and appeals in those jurisdictions.

The Supreme Court pregnancy protection decision may be a firm answer deciding what accommodations must allotted to an employee for pregnancy-related constraints on performance of job duties.

[photo credit: William J Grimes]