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Do Pregnant Women Deserve Special Treatment on the Job?

January 23, 2015 Pregnancy Discrimination

A woman’s normal job duties include lifting heavy objects. If that woman becomes pregnant, is her employer legally obligated to modify her job until she’s back to full physical capabilities?

That’s the question that’s before the U.S. Supreme Court right now. The court’s decision – while potentially months away – is likely to have a massive impact on pregnant women’s rights on the job.

Equal Status Doesn’t Mean Favored Status

Many women are often surprised to hear that the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) doesn’t offer specific physical protection for pregnant women who may work in strenuous or potentially dangerous jobs. Rather the PDA states (among several provisions) that pregnant women are entitled to the same treatment as any non-pregnant employees “similar in their ability or inability to work.” That means that if a similarly-situated employee would be given protective gear, allowed breaks at certain times, or permitted to modify certain tasks, then a pregnant woman should be given the same consideration under the law.

However, the PDA leaves significant room for confusion, as it seems to call for a comparison of pregnancy to a commensurate physical condition. Obviously, pregnancy is a very specific thing, so that begs the question: What is a fair comparison? 

Lifting Restrictions Until Delivery

The case before the Supreme Court is Young v. United Parcel Service. Peggy Young was a part-time driver for UPS. She took a leave of absence to undergo in-vitro fertilization. After she became pregnant, she attempted to return to work. She presented a doctor’s note stating that she was allowed to lift items only up to 20 pounds during the first 20 weeks of her pregnancy, and after that she was restricted to lifting only 10 pounds. Her supervisor informed Young that she wouldn’t be allowed to return to work until she no longer had a lifting restriction.

Young asked for an exception to the policy, asking for light-duty work for the duration of her pregnancy. She was referred to the company’s occupational health manager, Carol Martin, who determined that Young was unable to perform her job, and that she wasn’t eligible for light-duty work.

Martin pointed out that under the terms of its collective bargaining agreement and internal policies, the company was only required to offer light-duty under certain conditions, such as when a worker was recovering from job-related injuries or was covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Young was asked not to return to work until she was no longer pregnant. She took an extended, unpaid leave of absence, during which she lost her medical coverage.

Even though Young returned to work after the birth of her child, she was stung by what she felt was discriminatory treatment during her pregnancy. She contacted a lawyer and sued for pregnancy discrimination.

The case went through several appeals before reaching the nation’s highest court earlier this month. A decision is expected before June 2015.

Contact the Murphy Law Group Now for a Free Consultation

If you have feel that you’ve been untreated fairly due to pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition, it’s best to seek legal advice.

Email us at, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.