Tracking the latest developments in the fight for a fair America
The next time a woman is forced to choose between her job and her pregnancy, she may not even make it into court.
By Michelle D. Schwartz
AFJ Director of Justice Programs
It’s incredible that UPS refused to make a reasonable accommodation for driver Peggy Young after she became pregnant and her doctor advised her against lifting packages heavier than 20 pounds.
It’s incredible that UPS then forced Young to take unpaid leave for the remainder of her pregnancy, causing her to lose both her wages and her health insurance at the time she needed them most.
It’s incredible that UPS refused an accommodation for Young even as it made such accommodations for workers injured on the job, workers with disabilities falling under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and even drivers who lost their commercial driver’s licenses because of DUI convictions.
It’s incredible that, in 2014, Peggy Young was forced to choose between a healthy pregnancy and her job.
And it is incredible that Peggy Young’s case against UPS made it into court at all.
Today, more and more employees are compelled to accept forced arbitration clauses in their employment agreements, employee handbooks—even job applications. These clauses say that if a dispute should arise between the employee and the company they work for, the employee can’t take that dispute before an impartial jury or judge. Instead, they have to take their case before an arbitrator picked by the company, losing their fundamental right to go to court.
These arbitration clauses apply even in cases of employment discrimination that allegedly violate such hallowed laws as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and, yes, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
In fact, over the summer we learned that another company that’s no stranger to the Supreme Court—Hobby Lobby—has a forced arbitration clause. That clause kept an employee, Felicia Allen, out of court after she was fired for trying to take unpaid leave during her pregnancy. Hobby Lobby even tried to prevent Allen from receiving unemployment compensation. As we wrote at that time:
When Allen tried to sue Hobby Lobby for discriminating against her based on her pregnancy, she learned that Hobby Lobby had a forced arbitration clause. Allen’s lawyers refused to take her case after they learned of the forced arbitration clause and she—like so many other American consumers and employees—was left out in the cold. Hobby Lobby could take its case all the way to the Supreme Court, but its employee couldn’t even get through the courthouse doors.
In our short documentary Lost in the Fine Print, we tell the story of Nicole Mitchell, another woman forced into arbitration after trying to sue her employer for discriminating against her—this time based on her status as a Hurricane Hunter in the Air Force Reserve.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is a federal law that prohibits employers from firing, demoting, or failing to hire military reservists because of their reserve duty. But, as Mitchell found, USERRA and other laws protecting against employment discrimination may be worth little more than the paper they’re printed on when violations are forced into arbitration.
Employees fare far worse in arbitration than they do in the courtroom. Researchers at Cornell found that outcomes for employees forced into arbitration are “starkly inferior” to those in litigation.
And the harms of forced arbitration extend beyond the outcomes in individual cases. Because arbitration generally occurs in secret, systemic abuses are never exposed and remedied. So even on the rare occasion that an employee wins in arbitration, there is little incentive for the employer to protect employee rights moving forward.
Take the case of UPS.
In October, with Peggy Young’s case already pending before the Supreme Court, the company announced that, beginning on January 1, 2015, it would offer light duty assignments for pregnant workers. That offer comes too late for Peggy Young, but it is unlikely that it would have come at all if not for the public attention the Supreme Court case has brought. If Peggy Young had been forced into arbitration as Felicia Allen and Nicole Mitchell were, , that policy change likely never would have come.
Laws like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act vindicate critically important societal goals. Their proper interpretation should be decided in the full sunlight of the courtroom—not in a secret corporate tribunal.
Today, we stand with Peggy Young, and we hope that the Supreme Court will reverse its recent trend of hostility to working women. In the long term, though, we know that protecting Peggy Young and all who face discrimination at work will require reversing the Supreme Court’s decisions upholding forced arbitration under virtually any circumstances.
Everyone who cares about fair, discrimination-free workplaces should join us in our campaign to do just that.
With the Senate changing hands in January, some in the new Senate majority have indicated that they will continue to confirm President Obama’s judicial nominees, while others have gone so far as to call for a shutdown of confirmations during the final weeks of this session.
Alliance for Justice’s new Benched! series will keep an eye on what senators and other prominent officials say and do (or don’t do, as the case may be) on judicial nominations during President Obama’s remaining two years in office, in order to hold the Senate accountable for its constitutional obligation to advise and consent regarding the president’s nominees to the federal bench.
In a recent congressional hearing, soon-to-be Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said:
[T]he Senate has been extremely busy and accommodating in getting this President’s [judicial] nominees through.
Busy, yes. Accommodating, no. Senate Republicans have obstructed every aspect of the nomination process:
- They “hold over” nominees in committee: Instead of allowing committee votes at the first opportunity, Republicans have “held over” nearly all of President Obama’s judicial nominees, requiring an extra week or more before the nominee can go to the Senate floor.
- They filibuster even noncontroversial nominees: To date, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has had to file cloture on 115 of President Obama’s judicial nominations (including every nominee since November 2013)—compared to 22 total cloture filings on President George W. Bush’s judicial nominations.
- They require time-consuming roll-call votes: Republicans in 2014 have refused to follow the tradition of confirming judges—particularly noncontroversial district court judges—via unanimous consent or agreed-upon votes, forcing the Senate to go through the tedious roll call vote process, first to invoke cloture and then to confirm.
- They force the Senate to wait out the full allotment of post-cloture debate time: Senate Republicans have wasted well over 400 hours of floor time that could have been spent enacting legislation to help the American people.
If all this is “accommodating,” we wonder what Senator Grassley thinks obstruction looks like.
For the remainder of the 113th Congress, Senate Republicans should actually be “accommodating” and agree to confirm at least the 15 district court nominees now pending on the floor.
Stand with Peggy Young and all pregnant workers—because no worker should have to choose between her job and her pregnancy. On December 3, please join us at the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court or online at a virtual rally to #StandWithPeggy!
No worker should ever have to choose between her job and jeopardizing her pregnancy.
But when employers refuse to accommodate pregnant workers with medical needs, women like Peggy Young can end up without a paycheck just when they need it most.
When Peggy Young, a delivery driver for United Parcel Sercvice, found out she was pregnant, her doctor recommended that she avoid lifting more than 20 pounds.
UPS made accommodations in the past for employees with disabilities or on-the-job injuries. They even accommodated people who lost their drivers’ licenses because of drunk driving.
But they would provide no accommodation for Peggy Young. The company refused to put her on “light duty.” Instead, she was pushed onto unpaid leave for the duration of her pregnancy, and lost her UPS-provided health benefits.
On December 3, the Supreme Court will hear Peggy Young’s case, Young v. UPS, to decide whether UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act by refusing to offer her the same accommodations it made available to non-pregnant workers with similar limitations.
The Court’s ruling will affect working women across the country. And because many families rely on mothers’ earnings, when pregnant women are forced off the job and lose their paychecks and health care, their families suffer as well.
Two ways to stand with pregnant workers on December 3:
● If you’re in the Washington, D.C. area: Join us at a rally in front of the Supreme Court, 1 First St NE, 9:30-11:30 a.m. ET
● Wherever you are, take part in the #StandWithPeggy Virtual Rally, 2:00-3:00 p.m. ET
Take a picture with a #StandWithPeggy sign and post using the #StandWithPeggy hashtag.
AFJ’s new Judicial Selection Dashboard brings the statistics to life
Alliance for Justice long has been the definitive source of information concerning judicial vacancies. We track the status of every vacancy for a lifetime appointment to a federal judgeship. Now, we’re also the leader in presenting the data in an easy to access, visually-striking form.
Find out at a glance where the vacancies are most severe. Where have they gone on the longest? Where have they reached the status of Judicial Emergencies? How many vacancies are there in your state?
Developed by Data Revelations the dashboard lets you zoom in – literally – on any state. Filter by the party affiliation of a state’s senators, by circuit or district court vacancies, by when the vacancy was announced or when the judgeship became vacant, by whether a nominee is pending in committee or on the Senate floor – or by almost any other variable you can think of.
We’ve preserved all the detailed information you’re used to about judicial vacancies. Now it’s in a format that allows you to customize it to your needs.
But pretty graphics are not an end in themselves – they’re a way to drive home the point we’ve been making for years: There should be a judge for every vacancy on the federal bench. And, as AFJ President Nan Aron noted in her recent letter in The New York Times we need those vacancies filled now!
We could say more, but the Dashboard “speaks” for itself!
Making Change at Walmart (MCAW) is a campaign that works to strengthen our economy and working families by demanding Walmart improve policies in pay and working conditions. In the days leading up to Black Friday, routinely the busiest shopping day for Walmart and other retailers, MCAW and local Walmart workers are protesting and holding Walmart accountable. In the guest blog below, Walmart worker Cantare Duvant describes what the campaign is demanding, how advocates are standing up, and how you can get involved.
By Cantare Duvant
I’m a 30-year old part-time Customer Service Manager at the Apple Valley Walmart store in Minnesota.
This November, I’ve been standing up with my fellow workers and members of OUR Walmart—an organization of current and former Walmart associates—for change at America’s largest private employer.
It’s time for Walmart and the Waltons—America’s richest family—to finally pay their associates a living wage of $15 an hour so that American taxpayers no longer have to subsidize Walmart’s workforce when they end up on welfare or food stamps, because they don’t earn enough to survive.
Associates also need access to full-time hours. Even those of us who make closer to $10 an hour can’t make ends meet when we are only given 16 hours a week to work—like me.