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Supreme Court Revives Pregnant UPS Worker's Discrimination Lawsuit

The U.S. Supreme Court gave a former UPS driver another chance to show her employer discriminated against her when she was pregnant, sending the case back to a lower court.

At issue is an employer's responsibilities under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Peggy Young, a UPS driver, said the company discriminated against her when she became pregnant by not assigning her light work. The company contended that it obeyed the law because it provided light work only in certain situations; it did not single out pregnant women, the company said. (But UPS changed that policy in January, saying it tries to accommodate pregnant workers.)

Today's 6-3 decision was read by Justice Stephen Breyer. He was joined by Justices Samuel Alito, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as well as Chief Justice John Roberts. Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas dissented.

NPR's Nina Totenberg reported last December on the case brought by Young, who had been driving a UPS delivery truck for four years when she became pregnant. UPS asked that she contact the company nurse, who asked Young for a doctor's note. The doctor, Nina reported, thought the request for a note "odd," but wrote one that recommended that Young, almost all of whose pickups involved envelopes and small packages, not lift more than 20 pounds.

But the UPS nurse said that the company didn't provide alternative work to off-work incidents. Young lost her job and UPS health insurance for nine months.

Here's more from Nina's story:

"Young sued UPS for back pay and damages under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. UPS fought the suit in court, contending that it treated Young just as it treated other employees who were limited in their ability to lift as a result of events that took place off the job. UPS's policy is that drivers are supposed to be able to lift up to 70 pounds. It didn't matter to the company that Young's actual job required her to lift more than 20 pounds only a few times a month, and that a co-worker was willing to help."

The Associated Press says today's decision reflects a middle ground.

"Courts must now re-examine Young's case with a more accepting view of the discrimination claim," the AP said. "UPS and other employers facing similar suits still are able to argue their policies were legal because they were based on seniority or some other acceptable reason."

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Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.

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