Peggy Young, a pregnant UPS driver in Maryland, brought a doctor’s note to her employer stating that she could not lift more than 20 lbs. Her employer refused to honor the restriction—saying that light duty was only available to other classes of workers such as those injured on the job, those with disabilities recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and those who had lost their commercial driver’s licenses. Peggy Young sued for pregnancy discrimination and lost; the courts held that she wasn’t comparable to those workers who UPS accommodated.
If Ms. Young were seeking her accommodation today, the story might be much different. That’s because earlier today the Maryland governor just signed into law the Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Workers Act. Maryland’s law addresses a misreading of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which requires employers to treat pregnant workers the same as those “similar in their ability or inability to work.” Unfortunately, many courts around the country have held, like in Ms. Young’s case, that, under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnant workers are not similar to workers in these other categories. As a result, many pregnant women in Maryland and around the country have been denied minor and inexpensive accommodations, forced onto unpaid leave, been fired, or had to continue to do tasks that posed risk to their pregnancies, even while workers with comparable limitations have been accommodated.
Similar to the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act, a bill proposed on the federal level the Center has written about many times before, Maryland’s new law takes the comparator issue off the table and simply requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant-related disabilities as long as such accommodations do not present an undue hardship to the employer. Maryland’s law promises to greatly help pregnant women and their families: according to the National Partnership on Women & Families, in 2010 more than 54,000 pregnant women in Maryland provided critical income to their families. Of course, only a fraction of these women require accommodations, but, for those who do, whether or not they receive them could mean the difference between having a job or not and having a safe pregnancy or not.
Today’s victory is a step toward women’s equality and we applaud Maryland for making the world a more secure place for pregnant women. And we thank all of you Marylanders who lobbied the Maryland legislature to help make it happen.