Before I begin, a disclaimer. The United States Court system is incredibly complicated. Over the past few years, I’ve begun to understand the system a bit better, but forgive me if I mistakenly present incorrect information about this lawsuit, the courts’ initial decision, and the Supreme Court’s ruling. I’ll do my best.
In October of 2008, Peggy Young sued her former employer UPS under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, for refusing to accommodate her doctor’s orders that she do no heavy lifting (i.e. boxes over 20 pounds) throughout her pregnancy. Rather than transfer her to a job as a truck driver or give her “light duty,” UPS decided to place her on an extended, unpaid leave of absence, during which she lost her health insurance.
Young and her attorneys appealed this decision (twice), and the case ultimately went to the Supreme Court, where — in a shocking turn of events — the majority decided that Young did have the right to sue under the Act. (This is where it gets tricky, the Supreme Court did not actually make a decision on Young’s case. Rather, they bumped it back down to the Fourth Circuit Court, who will decide whether UPS discriminated against her).
Legalese is extremely complicated, but it seems that UPS argued that because their decision to place her on leave was “pregnancy-blind” (meaning that they were considering her “disability” as if it were an injury she obtained off-the-job), she did not deserve any special treatment, and they were not discriminating against her.
A few problems with this: (1) I am still not entirely sure how I feel about people referring to pregnancy as a disability; although we discussed this issue ad nauseam in class, and I know it’s incredibly hard to come up with a definition for that word, it just rubs me the wrong way. And (2) Corporations are heartless.
I understand that it affects the bottom line of a company if an employer gets injured — or pregnant — off the job. But how is it acceptable for the company to put a person on unpaid leave, leading the individual to lose their health insurance when they need it most? (All of this makes me want to jump on my soapbox to talk about how health insurance should never be tied to employment. Every person should have health insurance, whether they are employed or not. It’s a public health issue and our employers should have nothing to do with our bodies… BUT that’s another issue, so I’ll leave it at that.) Employees who choose to have a baby — or God-forbid, get injured — should have the right to remain in their jobs for as long as they healthfully can! Accommodations should absolutely be made in these cases.
I can’t help but think that corporations would treat pregnancy entirely differently if it were men who carried the babies. I have a feeling that companies would be bending over backwards to ensure that men could stay in their jobs throughout their pregnancies, with as little disruption as possible. Allowing them all sorts of accommodations. And think, if men were the ones who were pregnant, companies would already have set policies about how to best keep men happy during this time of their lives. Because they would have written these rules in for themselves at the start. And of course, each and every health insurance policy would make sure to cover fertility-related expenses, all forms of contraceptives, and labor costs. Because men think of men. And our culture follows suit. Men are valued. Men are respected. And women… oh yeah…. I guess we have to deal with them too now.
I’m really glad the Supreme Court said that Peggy Young had the right to sue. Now I just hope that the Fourth Circuit recognizes that UPS’s policy was discriminatory. Apparently, UPS already realized it because *spoiler alert, * they changed their policy; probably due to the terrible press they were getting for being a sexist company. It’s too bad that it takes these long, drawn-out expensive lawsuits to change our culture around sexism. But hey, one corporation at a time. At least there’s change.