Friday, May 3, 2019
Deborah Widiss, Young v. United Parcel Services, Inc., Rewritten, in Feminist Judgments: Employment Discrimination Opinions Rewritten (Ann C. McGinley & Nicole B. Porter, eds., Cambridge Univ. Press, 2019, forthcoming).
Young v. United Parcel Services, 135 S. Ct. 1338 (2015), is appropriately considered a win for women because it expanded opportunities for pregnant employees to receive workplace accommodations. However, the case could have been far more transformative, both in how it interpreted the law and in how it explained why it matters for working women. This “rewritten” version, forthcoming in an edited volume, imagines what Young might have said if it were written from a feminist perspective.
The Supreme Court’s actual decision instructs lower courts to assess whether an employer’s refusal to provide an accommodation is infected by discriminatory bias. The rewritten decision, by contrast, argues the plain language of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes intent irrelevant, so long as a pregnant employee can show that other workers with similar limitations receive more favorable treatment. This interpretation is better supported by the text of the statute, as well as its history and purpose. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also endorsed this interpretation, and the rewritten opinion shows why deference was warranted.
Finally, the rewritten opinion rejects the contention, articulated by the Court in the actual Young decision, that this interpretation affords pregnant women a “most favored nation” status. This allegation suggests accommodating male workers is an ordinary cost of business, but costs relating to pregnancy are special costs that employers should not have to bear. The PDA’s comparative structure was intended to counteract such assumptions and the still-pervasive belief that pregnant women are less capable or less committed than other employees.
Readers may also be interested in my more traditional academic scholarship on this subject: Gilbert Redux: The Interaction of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Amended Americans With Disabilities Act, 46 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 961 (2013) (https://ssrn.com/abstract=2221332) and The Interaction of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act After Young v. UPS, 50 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 1423 (2017) (https://ssrn.com/abstract=2948666).