BC Expert: Supreme Court on Pregnancy Accommodation in the Workplace
PROFESSOR KENT GREENFIELD, BOSTON COLLEGE LAW SCHOOL
Office: 617-552-3167; cell: 781-454-8104;
Professor Greenfield is the author of The Myth of Choice and The Failure of Corporate Law. He’s an expert in constitutional law and corporate law, and clerked at the Supreme Court for Justice David Souter. Along with being a guest on CNN and MSNBC, Greenfield has been published the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, The Nation, The American Prospect, and legal publications such as the Yale Law Journal, the Virginia Law Review, the Harvard Law and Policy Review, and the George Washington Law Review. Professor Greenfield is also a frequent lecturer in both academic and public settings.
In a case that could affect millions of women, the Supreme Court will hear a case today focusing on pregnancy in the workplace. In 2006, UPS driver Peggy Young was put on unpaid leave after telling her employer that, under her doctor’s order, she could not lift packages above twenty pounds because she was pregnant.
“I think Peggy Young has the better of the arguments,” says Boston College Law Professor Kent Greenfield, an expert in corporate law. “But this court is very protective of business interests and business interests are pretty clearly on the side of UPS. Young has a strong argument but it’s an uphill battle.
“The question is whether the UPS decision to lay her off is about pregnancy or not. It goes to the age old question of what it means to treat people equally. How much does the federal law require a company to accommodate pregnant employees? Does the requirement to treat them equally mean that their limitations must be accommodated?”
After UPS refused to temporarily re-assign Young, she sued the shipping company under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment added to the Civil Rights Act, which prevents companies from firing pregnant employees. Young claimed UPS was making accommodations for colleagues who had bad backs or sprained ankles but would do nothing to accommodate her.
“UPS says its accommodations for others are for disabilities or limitations that were created on the job,” says Greenfield, author of The Failure of Corporate Law. “If an employee hurt his or her back on the job, the company would accommodate that person. Young’s limitation was based on pregnancy, something that happened outside the workplace and was her choice, so UPS says it doesn’t have a responsibility to accommodate. UPS is essentially saying it’s not discriminating when it’s acting on the basis of her limitations, not the pregnancy itself.”
Regardless of what the Supreme Court rules, UPS will reassign expectant mothers to light duty positions beginning next month. But companies all over the country have a vested interest in this outcome.
“This issue is big, especially in industries traditionally dominated by men but have increasing numbers of women working for them, like UPS, the postal service, factory work,” says Greenfield, who clerked at the Supreme Court for Justice David Souter. “If this kind of accommodation is due pregnant women who are in the workplace, it will be significant for millions of women.”
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