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Supreme Court weighs pregnancy discrimination claim

Pregnancy discrimination has been a pressing issue within employment law over the past few years. Essentially, pregnancy discrimination refers to a female applicant or employee who is treated adversely because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition caused by either pregnancy or childbirth.

Even thought the definition of pregnancy discrimination is pretty straight-forward, the cases involving these allegations are often less clear. But since 75 percent of female workers will become pregnant at least once while employed, it is a crucial issue to understand.

Hopefully, a case being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this week will help with that.

The case involves a former United Parcel Service worker who filed a pregnancy discrimination claim against the company seven years ago. While pregnant, the woman was told by her doctor that she couldn’t lift heavy objects, something her job with UPS required of her. She asked UPS for a temporary job that didn’t involve heavy lifting for the duration of her pregnancy but the company refused.

In her lawsuit against UPS, the woman argued that it was unfair that UPS made accommodations for employees who were not pregnant but had other work restrictions because of an injury, disability or losing a license to drive. She argued that this was a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which extended the protections of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to pregnant workers.  

Two lower courts have ruled against the woman so far, but that isn’t to say that the nation’s highest court will issue the same ruling.

It’s also worth noting that there have been two significant developments on the issue. First, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its guidelines to make clear to employers that workers in this situation should be offered reasonable accommodations. Additionally, UPS actually changed its own policy and now allows pregnant employees to be eligible for temporary light-duty positions.

This can be a complicated issue for employers, especially in small businesses. It’s important to work with an experienced employment law attorney who can make sure a small business’ practices are in line with federal law and the forthcoming decision by the Supreme Court.

Source:, "Ex-UPS driver's pregnancy bias claim at high court," Mark Sherman, Associated Press, Dec. 1, 2014

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