SCOTUS Series Focuses on Pregnancy, Discrimination

Photo by Hope Patti

On Tuesday, Oct. 27, Ramapo hosted its fifth Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) discussion. Each Tuesday for 10 weeks, the LAWS Convening Group and the Civic and Community Engagement Center have held discussions on different case outcomes from the Supreme Court. The goal of the talks is to introduce the Supreme Court and its landmark decisions to the community in terms that are understandable.

Mia Serban, an assistant professor of law and society at Ramapo, led this Tuesday’s talk. The case focused upon the Young v. UPS case. The case focuses on a woman, Peggy Young, who wanted to undergo in vitro fertilization. UPS allowed her to undergo the surgery, but once she got pregnant, she was given an unpaid medical leave. There has been much controversy over this case, primarily in discussing whether or not she was discriminated against. Serban added that pregnancy discrimination claims have increased 25 percent since 1997. The number one claim is discharge because one became pregnant, the number two charge is a woman feels she is being treated differently because she’s pregnant.

“Eliminating discrimination based on pregnancy belongs to a really broad framework. The other big piece that’s coming into this picture is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The number one thing to keep in mind is the goal is not to treat pregnant women any differently from anybody else that might not be able to perform your functions for another reason,” Serban stated when initiating the talk.

The conversation started with the specifics of the case, before leading to what the students and faculty present at the talk thought of the case and what the Supreme Court should have decided. Serban explained that UPS gives different, lighter duties to people who have lost their licenses or been injured on the job and to drivers who suffered from disabilities under the ADA act. UPS workers who lost their driver’s license were reassigned to different jobs; Peggy was given an unpaid leave of medical absence. At the time, UPS claimed that they had a "pregnancy blind" policy.

Students argued that people working for UPS who have broken the law and lost their licenses were reassigned, while it seems Young was "punished" for becoming pregnant.

Patrick Anzano, a freshman attending the discussion, attempted to rationalize UPS’ decision:

“UPS is a capitalist company, they don’t think from a moral perspective, they’re going to do what will make them the most money or save them the most money. If a pregnant lady can’t produce as much labor, then they’re not going to want to keep her on,” he said.

The debate seemed to be split between decisions, with one side arguing that in other cases similar to this, pregnant women have sued their employers for the loss of the baby, even though the women wanted to remain working. The other side argued that while that may have been unjust, one cannot compare cases. Students suggested employers leave a paper trail of evidence detailing their concern for both the woman and her unborn baby. While some in attendance at the SCOTUS discussion may have disagreed in their final decision, the Supreme Court decided that UPS acted unjustly and sided with Young in this case.