WASHINGTON — The US Supreme Court weighed the issue of workplace discrimination against pregnant women Wednesday, as activists outside the building unfurled banners in support of a delivery driver at the center of the case.
Peggy Young, a former driver for the UPS delivery service, claims she was the victim of discrimination in 2009 when she sought a change in her working conditions after conceiving through in vitro fertilization.
Her doctors had ordered her to avoid carrying parcels heavier than 20 pounds, but her job conditions required her to be capable of carrying more than 70 pounds.
UPS had refused to give Young a position in charge of "light" packages, arguing that those jobs were reserved only for employees with injuries or disabilities, effectively forcing Young to take seven months of unpaid leave, forfeiting her health insurance.
In a one-hour hearing, two of the three female justices on the Supreme Court openly weighed in with support for Young, who had lost in two lower court cases, although it remains difficult to predict which way the male-dominated panel will lean.
Ruth Ginsburg, 81, a fervent defender of women's rights, and her progressive colleague Elena Kagan, both entered into vigorous exchanges with Caitlin Halligan, the attorney representing UPS.
Ginsburg asked Halligan for a "single example of anyone who wanted a dispensation and didn't get it, except pregnant women."
Pregnant Women 'Unfairly Excluded'
Kagan meanwhile said the law "was supposed to be about removing stereotypes of pregnant women as marginal workers."
"It was supposed to be about ensuring that they wouldn't be unfairly excluded from the workplace," she said. "And what you are saying is that there's a policy that accommodates some workers, but puts all pregnant women on one side of the line."
Donald Verrilli, representing the US government, backed Young's case, saying it violated the law on discrimination against pregnancy.
"The point of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is to reduce the number of women who are driven from the workforce or forced to go months without an income as a result of becoming pregnant," Verrilli argued.
After suffering a recent defeat in another women's rights case on contraception, feminist activists are hoping for a different outcome this time. Banners reading "Stand with Peggy" were unfurled outside court before the hearing.
Speaking on the steps of the Supreme Court, Young said she was "hopeful" of victory. The Supreme Court will make its decision on the case before June next year.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014