Peggy Young talking to reporters

Supreme Court sides with pregnant workers in discrimination case

As you’ll recall, the Supreme Court has been hearing the pregnancy discrimination suit brought by Peggy Young. Yesterday, in a 6-3 decision, the court ruled in favor of the former UPS employee who was forced to take unpaid leave when she became pregnant. 

Young was tasked with lifting boxes as heavy as 70 pounds in her job as a UPS worker. When she got pregnant, her midwife recommended that she not lift more than 20 pounds, and wrote a note asking her employer to put her on light duty. Had Young been written a similar note because Young broke her arm carrying boxes, or suffered from a disability, UPS would have put her on what is known as “light duty.” But UPS wouldn’t do it for Young on account of her pregnancy. The alternative was to take unpaid leave without medical benefits.

A federal appeals court sided with UPS, finding that granting “light duty” to Young would give pregnant employees an advantage over other other employees and that Young didn’t suffer pregnancy discrimination. But in so ruling, the court never gave Young a chance to go to trial and prove all the elements of her claim — in what the U.S. Supreme Court found was a violation of federal civil rights law.

As a brief filed by women’s rights organizations noted, a decision against Young would have harmed those most in need of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act’s protection. “[I]t is women in low-wage jobs and traditionally male-dominated occupations who are most likely to experience temporary conflicts between the physical effects of pregnancy and job requirements.”

While the court’s ruling is pretty narrow — just saying that Young should have the chance make her case in the lower courts — it’s a relief considering SCOTUS’s woman-shaped “blind spot” in recent years and an important win for pregnant workers. As Young’s lawyer said, “It’s a big step forward towards enforcing the principle that a woman shouldn’t have to choose between her pregnancy and her job.”

 Header image credit: Susan Walsh/AP Photo

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation