Truthdigger of the Week: Peggy Young
Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating.
It was supposed to be one of the happiest times of her life, but when Peggy Young became pregnant in 2006, her employer, shipping company UPS, forced her out of work. Rather than be given light-duty work as her doctor prescribed, the company put her on unpaid leave, leaving her without medical benefits. “What started as a very happy pregnancy became one of the most stressful times of my life,” she said in 2013.
According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, Young’s predicament is repeated in the lives of as many as a quarter of a million working women each year.
The expectant mother and resident of Lorton, Va., didn’t resign herself to being pushed around, however. She sued UPS, alleging that the company had violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. After losing her case in a lower court, Young made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Her grievance is due to be heard there Wednesday. The outcome will determine whether employers will be allowed to deprive female workers of their rights.
But even before the country’s high court determines the fate of many American women, Young’s campaign already scored a victory. On Oct. 27, as the court date drew near, UPS announced an official change in its policy for pregnant employees. Effective Jan. 1, the company will offer temporary positions involving reduced labor to pregnant workers. The shipper stated in a brief to the court:
On a going forward basis, UPS has voluntarily decided to provide additional accommodations for pregnancy-related physical limitations as a matter of corporate discretion. UPS’s new policy provides: “Light-duty work will be provided as an accommodation to pregnant employees with lifting or other physical restrictions to the same extent as such work is available as an accommodation to employees with similar restrictions resulting from on-the-job injuries.”
Ms. magazine reports that employers have been exploiting loopholes in the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) — which amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy” — for decades. The promise of Young’s case is that it “has the power to make the PDA virtually airtight and erase exploitable loopholes.” In a Nov. 25 article on Young, the magazine quoted The National Partnership for Women & Families as saying:
A Supreme Court decision in favor of Peggy Young would clarify that pregnant women with temporary physical limitations must be treated the same as other workers with temporary physical limitations. Pregnant women would be granted reasonable accommodations if other workers with temporary physical limitations are accommodated. … A Supreme Court decision in favor of UPS would deal a critical blow to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act’s effectiveness, enabling employers to evade the law’s requirements.
Young’s case is a powerful reminder that gender rights are inextricably bound up in economic rights. It is also a confirmation that, in the drive for maximum profit returns to shareholders, employers that are given an inch will take every foot, meter and mile they can get. Undefended, pregnant women represent an extra source for that drive. Society’s most powerful forces cannot be allowed to be accountable to themselves; the public and their representatives have to rein them in. Young’s lawsuit is a bid to do just that, and for that she is our Truthdigger of the Week.