By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Delving into the sensitive subject of women's rights in the workplace, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider on Wednesday whether employers must provide accommodations for pregnant workers who may have a hard time doing their usual job duties.
The case concerns whether package delivery company UPS Inc treated part-time truck driver Peggy Young unfairly in 2006 by denying her request for temporary changes in her work duties. With women making up almost half the U.S. workforce, the court's ruling in the case could have broad ramifications.
Young, who worked at a facility in Maryland, had acted on a midwife's advice that she not be required to lift packages weighing more than 20 pounds (9 kg) while pregnant.
She sued when UPS denied her request. UPS said it was not required to accommodate her under either the Pregnancy Discrimination Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act. UPS at the time did offer some accommodations to people who were not pregnant but had similar physical limitations.
Both a federal district court judge and an appeals court ruled in favor of UPS.
Young's lawyers say the pregnancy law is clear. "When two sets of employees experience similar restrictions on their ability to work - one because of pregnancy and the other because of some other condition - the employer must not give any lesser accommodation to the pregnant workers," they wrote in court papers.
UPS is backed by business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The company announced in October that, starting in January, it will change its policy so pregnant women can be accommodated, a change made in part because nine states now require employers to provide the type of modification Young wanted.
Separately, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in July issued new enforcement guidance saying that employers must offer accommodations to pregnant women in the same way they do for any other worker who has the same physical limitations.
The case has united groups that support legalized abortion and those opposed to it. A friend-of-the-court brief filed by 23 anti-abortion groups noted that the pregnancy law "protects the unborn child as well as the working mother."
Oral arguments before the Supreme Court are set for Wednesday. A ruling is due by the end of June.
The case is Young v. UPS, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-1226.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)