It would seem logical that people with temporary or permanent physical limitations should be accommodated at work, and not be asked to perform tasks that might be hazardous to their health. And in fact, legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act exist as pillars of support for this idea.
At least this is what Peggy Young, a UPS worker from Maryland, thought when she became pregnant and reasonably requested keeping her heavy lifting restricted to 20 pounds or less. Peggy even formally approached her manager with a written note from her midwife stating that strenuous lifting would be a hazard. She assumed that the whole affair would not cause any trouble, because though her job description stipulated that she be able to lift up to 70 pounds, she worked as an air driver, a position which typically does not require such lifting.
Imagine her panic when her manager forced her to take unpaid leave . . . because he considered the pregnancy a liability. That is right, because she was pregnant, she was shamelessly discriminated against and forced to fend for herself without income throughout a time when she needed it most. Not only that, but by the end of her eight and a half months out of work, she lost her health coverage and benefits. Adding insult to injury, this took place after she had been at UPS for seven years. During that time, the company had made accommodations for other employees, including transfers for male employees who had lost their commercial driving licenses due to drunk driving convictions.
In 2008, angered by her manager’s discriminatory actions, Peggy Young took the case to federal court. She argued that this was a violation of the PDA, only to have the court rule in favor of UPS. Their rationale? Her pregnancy was considered an “off the job injury” and such “injuries” were not mandated to have light duty accommodations. Pregnancy, of course, is not an injury but a natural condition that may require some activity restriction for the health of the mother or developing fetus.
The sexism in this case is blatant. Only biologically female humans can become pregnant. Women should not be discriminated against because they are the ones who bear children.
Stepping back, we see that the PDA only serves to ensure equal treatment on the job. This means corporations are free to treat all employees badly, so long as they are all treated equally poorly. This kind of equality is without value, and hits marginalized groups disproportionately.
In the United States, corporations are allowed to treat their employees as though they are disposable. Thrown aside for profit are human values like providing the best possible care to children and families. In the current social, political and economic structure, women and their families are left to fend for themselves without necessities like paid maternity and paternity leave, socialized childcare or a free health care system.
Look out for this case within the year, as it is now in line to be handled by the Supreme Court and will likely cause controversy if the court rules in favor of UPS. It is imperative to continue to fight for an end to discrimination against women, and to be ready to stand up to the Supreme Court if they make another decision granting further rights to corporate “persons” while undermining women’s rights.