flip to next page
Women as an Underserved Group: Employment Rights in America
What causes women to seek changes in laws for employment rights through the U.S.
Supreme Courts? Although the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the Equal
Rights Amendment support the protection of rights for women in the United States,
discrimination continues to be a major obstacle. Protections for women as an underserved group
often involve employment rights to help prevent sex-based discrimination such as pregnancy
discrimination in the workplace, as well as racial discrimination toward women of color.
Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace
Pregnancy discrimination in is one aspect of women’s struggle for equality in America.
The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) describes pregnancy discrimination
as, “… treating a woman (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of pregnancy,
childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.”1 Therefore, it is unlawful
for a pregnant woman to be denied the right to work in the United States. The Supreme Court
case Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. may be able to help us evaluate laws and rights, as they
pertain to pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. In the Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc.
case, a UPS employee, Peggy Young, claimed to be the victim of gender and disability based
discrimination.2 As Oyez explains, since Young could not lift the seventy pounds her job
description required of her, per the advice of her physician, UPS made her take an involuntary
1. “Pregnancy Discrimination.” Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sex.cfm (accessed October 18, 2015).
2. Chicago-Kent College of Law at Illinois Tech. "Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc."
Oyez. https://www.oyez.org/cases/2014/12-1226 (accessed October 18, 2015).
leave of absence without pay. Our Greenberg and Page text states that discrimination against the
disabled is prohibited, in accordance with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.3 In
the case of Young, her disability prevented her performance of regular work duties.
According to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), as described by the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission, pregnant women who experience conditions related to
pregnancy, must be treated the same as employees with similar abilities and inabilities to
perform work duties.4 However, the EEOC further maintains that if an employee cannot perform
her job duties because of a pregnancy, employers must provide her with “light duty, modified
tasks, alternative assignments, disability leave, or leave without pay.”5 The Justices in the case
decided 6-3 in favor of Young on March 24, 2015 and held that a petitioner may prove that she
endured discriminatory treatment if it was caused by deception of the employer. The
Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court of the United States asserts that the struggle for “…gender
neutrality and gender equality…” has prevented new laws and changes in employment benefits
for pregnant women, new mothers, and mothers with toddlers.6 I feel that current laws should be
changed to accommodate pregnant women because pregnancy is a time when women’s bodies
undergo extreme changes and complications. The discrimination, in my opinion, occurs when
women are treated differently because of this temporary disability.
3. Greenberg, Edward S, and Benjamin I Page. The Struggle for Democracy. Upper
Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc. (2014), 536.
4. “Pregnancy Discrimination.” Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
6. Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court of the United States. “Pregnancy.” Vol. 4, by
Martha A Fineman, edited by David S Tanenhaus, 87-92. Detroit: Macmillan Reference, 2008.
Racial discrimination in the workplace
For women of color, discrimination is often a case of double jeopardy. Another Supreme
Court case, Vance v. Ball State University allows us to better understand how racial
discrimination in the workplace can be approached by the Courts. The Vance v. Ball State
University case concerns Maetta Vance, an African American food service employee, who
claimed she was discriminated against and subjected to a hostile work environment.7 The EEOC
website provides a description of race discrimination and that it is the “unfavorable” or hostile
treatment of and employee based on race.8 Oyez conveys that Vance lost work hours, was not
provided with breaks, and was punished without reason. According to our text; de jure
discrimination is “unequal treatment based on government laws and regulations” and will prompt
strict scrutiny by the courts. De facto discrimination is the “unequal treatment by private
individuals, groups, and organizations” and persists as a reality of life.9 This is an instance of de
facto discrimination because an individual committed the act.
On June 23, 2015, the Supreme Court Justices decided 5-4 against Maetta Vance, and
held that held that the person who committed the discrimination was not a supervisor, and was
without the authority to hire and fire. An article by Warren Richey in The Christian Science
Monitor makes reference to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent, in which she states,
“…restricting the definition of supervisor, the Court once again shuts from sight the robust
7. “Vance v. Ball State University.” Oyez. https://www.oyez.org/cases/2012/11-556
(accessed October 18, 2015).
8. “Race/Color Discrimination.” Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
9. Greenberg and Page. Struggle. (2014), 536.
protection against workplace discrimination Congress intended Title VII to secure.”10 According
to the EEOC website, “Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color,
religion, sex and national origin.”11 In Vance v. Ball State University, the Court's decision
overlooks employees who act in supervisory roles. So then, the employee did not have the
authority to fire Maetta Vance, only to oversee her work duties and subject her to harassment.
Discrimination can sometimes be a two-way street for women of color. The Encyclopedia of the
Supreme Court of the United States provides an example to help us understand that, “a woman of
color must often choose between speaking as a woman or speaking as a person of color.”12 In
that, even her voice experiences inequality because of her race and her sex. In most instances,
she can only speak in the one she feels might be worth the struggle—but aren’t they both of
What Does the Future Hold?
Women have made great strides for equality in America and the world over. As we have
observed—not just in the mere examples provided here, but in all of the examples displayed
throughout history—women have struggled desperately to change laws that continue in favor of
discrimination. Now that we have a clearer view of how sex-based discrimination impacts
women, we must ask an important question: How can the underrepresentation of women in the
U.S. Supreme Court better serve women as a community? Let the struggle continue until it is
truly evident that all men and women of all races are created equal.
10. Richey, Warren. "Supreme Court Makes it Harder for Workers to Win Discrimination
Lawsuits." The Christian Science Monitor (National Newspapers Core), June 2013.
11. “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Equal Employment Opportunity
12. Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court of the United States. “Intersections of Race and
Gender.” Vol. 2, by Wendy Scott, 492-499.
Chicago-Kent College of Law at Illinois Tech. Vance v. Ball State University. Oyez. June 23,
2013. https://www.oyez.org/cases/2012/11-556 (accessed October 18, 2015).
—. Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. Oyez. March 24, 2015.
https://www.oyez.org/cases/2014/12-1226 (accessed October 18, 2015).
Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court of the United States. “Intersections of Race and Gender.”
Vol. 2, by Wendy Scott, edited by David S. Tanenhaus, 492-499. Detroit: Macmillan
Reference USA, 2008.
—. “Pregnancy.” Vol. 4, by Martha A Fineman, edited by David S Tanenhaus, 87-92. Detroit:
Macmillan Reference, 2008.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “Pregnancy Discrimination.” 2015.
http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-preg.cfm (accessed October 18, 2015).
—. “Race/Color Discrimination.” 2015. http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/race_color.cfm
(accessed October 23, 2015).
—. “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” 2015.
http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm (accessed October 23, 2015).
Greenberg, Edward S, and Benjamin I Page. The Struggle for Democracy. Upper Saddle River:
Pearson Education, Inc., 2014.
Richey, Warren. "Supreme Court Makes it Harder for Workers to Win Discrimination Lawsuits."
The Christian Science Monitor (National Newspapers Core), June 2013.