Lawmakers Push Supreme Court to Back Rights for Pregnant Employees

A coalition of 123 lawmakers showed their support for pregnant workers.

Being pregnant on the job isn't easy. And a coalition of lawmakers say a federal court has made it much harder.

More than 100 members of Congress filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on Thursday in support of Peggy Young, a former United Parcel Service driver who says the shipping company discriminated against her because she was pregnant.

The friend-of-the-court brief charges that a lower court misinterpreted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, a 1978 law created to protect women from being forced out of work due to medical issues arising from pregnancy.

"Decades after passage of the PDA, mothers continue to face stereotypes in the workplace," reads the brief, signed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., among others.

In Peggy Young v. United Parcel Service, Young alleges that UPS forced her to go on unpaid leave rather than allow her to work a light-duty job where she wouldn't have to lift boxes weighing more than 20 pounds. She lost her benefits, including her health insurance.

Richmond's Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with UPS, ruling that the company's policy of accommodating workers with on-the-job injuries or who had lost their driver's licenses was pregnancy-blind—meaning Young didn't qualify.

While statistics show pregnancy discrimination hits workers in low-wage jobs hardest, women on the highest rungs of the corporate ladder face similar prejudice. Leigh Castergine, a former executive for the New York Mets, filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging that she was fired because she was pregnant and unmarried. The suit claims the baseball team's co-owner, Jeff Wilpon, humiliated Castergine by pretending to see if she was wearing an engagement ring and openly stated that he was "morally opposed" to her pregnancy.

Shaheen and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., are pushing a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would close what sponsors say are loopholes in the current law. Simple accommodations—a stool to sit on while working a cash register, bathroom breaks, a bottle of water—would ensure pregnant workers can stay on the job, they argue, keeping their pay and health insurance.

Though the bill hasn't gotten much traction in Congress, states have taken to passing their own versions. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed his state's iteration into law on Tuesday, joining a mounting number of cities and states that have passed similar legislation.

Young's case, which will be heard by the Supreme Court next year, could make the difference for pregnant workers in all sections of the job force.