WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday sided with a former driver for UPS Inc by giving her another chance to argue that the package delivery company discriminated against her when it refused to lighten her work duties while she was pregnant.
In a 6-3 decision, the justices revived Peggy Young’s discrimination claim against the company by sending the case back to a lower court. A federal district court judge and an appeals court had earlier ruled in favor of UPS, which was backed by business groups in the case.
“This is a big win for Peggy Young and other women in the workplace,” said Sam Bagenstos, Young’s lawyer.
The case focused on whether, under a federal law called the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, employers must provide accommodations for pregnant workers who may have physical limitations on tasks they can perform.
Young, who worked at a Maryland facility, became pregnant in 2006. She made her request for an accommodation after a midwife advised that she not be required to lift packages weighing more than 20 pounds (9 kg).
Writing for the majority, liberal Justice Stephen Breyer said the lower court failed to consider the effects of UPS policies that covered non-pregnant workers who might have disabilities, injuries or otherwise might need accommodations.
Breyer said there is a “genuine dispute as to whether UPS provided more favorable treatment to at least some employees whose situation cannot reasonably be distinguished from Young’s.”
Bagenstos said the court “made clear that employers may not refuse to accommodate pregnant workers based on considerations of cost or convenience when they accommodate other workers.”
UPS said it was confident it would ultimately win the case.
“UPS is pleased that the Supreme Court rejected the argument that UPS’s pregnancy-neutral policy was inherently discriminatory,” a company statement said.
Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas, wrote a dissenting opinion accusing the court majority of coming up with “an interpretation that is as dubious in principle as it is senseless in practice.”
UPS said last October that starting this past January it would begin providing accommodations for pregnant women.
The impact of the ruling could be limited in part because a 2008 amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act could now protect women in Young’s situation. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said employees must offer accommodations to pregnant women just as they do for other workers with similar physical limitations.
The case is Young v. UPS, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-1226.
Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham