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A Brief History of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act

A Brief History of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act:

In 1976in the case General Electric v Gilbertthe Supreme Court deliberated whether an employer violated Title VII’s sex discrimination provision by providing employees with non-occupational sickness and accidents benefits, but specifically excluded disabilities arising from pregnancy. 

The district court in General Electric vGilbertruled against the company and found that normal pregnancy, while not necessarily either a “disease” or an “accident,” was indeed disabling for a certain period, and that 10-20% of pregnancies lead to miscarriage or other complications. The employer’s cost of including such benefits might in fact be higher for women than it was for men, but the district court held that this could not save the employer from being in violation of Title VII on the basis of sexThe U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed with that decision.


The Supreme Court, overturned the Fourth Circuit decision in General Electric v. Gilbert and held that the disability benefits plan did not violate Title VII because the plan treated male and female employees alike in that it covered “exactly the same categories of risk.” The Supreme Court then reasoned that, although pregnancy-related disabilities constitute a unique risk to women, the failure to compensate women for the risk did not destroy the parity of benefits between men and women. 

In 1978, Congress conveyed its displeasure with the Supreme Court’s decision in General ElectricGilbert by enacting the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The first section of the Pregnancy Disability Act specifies that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination applies to discrimination “because of, or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” 

The PDA’s second section relays that employers must treat “women affected by pregnancy   the same for all employment-related purposes . . . as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”

The interpretation of “other persons” in the Pregnancy Disability Act‘s second section was central to the Supreme Court’s decision in Youngv UPSwhere the Court grappled with the questions: 

• Does this clause mean that courts must compare workers only with respect to the work limitations they suffer? 
• Does it mean courts must ignore all other similarities or differences between pregnant and non-pregnant employees? 
• Does it mean that courts, when deciding who the relevant “other persons” are, may consider other similarities and differences as well?  If so, which ones?