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City University of New York Settles Pregnant Student's Discrimination Complaint Initiated by NWLC

Huge college system adopts new policy to protect students who are pregnant and parents

May 01, 2013

(Washington, D.C.) Today, the City University of New York (CUNY) agreed to settle a pregnancy discrimination complaint that the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) recently filed against it on behalf of 27-year-old CUNY student Stephanie Stewart and to uphold the legal rights of students who are pregnant or are already raising children.  The settlement will protect the rights of tens of thousands of parents and pregnant students in this sprawling New York City college system.

NWLC’s complaint alleged that CUNY violated Title IX—the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education—when one of its professors told Stewart, an honors student and recipient of an academic scholarship, that she would not be allowed to make up tests or assignments resulting from any pregnancy-related absences, including labor and delivery.  Although Title IX prohibits schools from penalizing pregnant students for medically necessary absences, the dean and other administrators declined to intervene on Stewart’s behalf and recommended instead that she drop the class since she was due to deliver her baby before the end of the term.  In the settlement, CUNY has agreed to adopt a new university-wide policy addressing the rights of pregnant and parenting students under Title IX, publish and disseminate that policy to its faculty, conduct training so that faculty members understand their obligations, and include the policy in the student handbook.  CUNY also agreed to reinstate Stewart’s full-tuition scholarship and reimburse her for expenses she incurred taking an extra course this semester in order to graduate on time.

“We applaud CUNY for responding to our complaint by adopting a new policy that honors its responsibility under Title IX to remove barriers that prevent pregnant students and parents from getting the education they need to position themselves in our competitive economy,” said NWLC Co-President Marcia D. Greenberger.  “Many students must overcome daunting hurdles to succeed in college.  Students who are pregnant or parents, in particular, must meet the demands of their academic workload while raising their children and dealing with the financial pressures of student loans, housing, child care and other basic budget needs.”

“I’m thrilled that CUNY will institute a comprehensive policy that’s designed to protect the rights of pregnant and parenting students like me,” said Stephanie Stewart, the student at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and the subject of the complaint. “I hope that this positive example will inspire other colleges across the country to do the same.  There are thousands of students as determined as I am to set a secure path and bright future for their children and themselves, and we all deserve that chance.”

The entire CUNY system—spanning all five boroughs of New York City—is educating over 269,000 students this year.  Women students account for 58.4 percent of this population and approximately 15 percent of the student body are parents.  But the national dropout rates among pregnant and parenting students are stark:  for example, 61 percent of women who have children after enrolling in community college do not graduate.  This number is 65 percent higher than for women who do not have children while in college. 

The initial complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, also detailed the retaliation Stewart experienced after challenging the policy, including receiving an academic warning from the professor in question immediately after she filed her complaint; she was later cleared of the academic warning.

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For more resources on Title IX and how the law protects pregnant and parenting students, visit www.nwlc.org/pregnantandparentingstudents.

 

NWLC Title IX experts are available for comment.  If you are interested in interviewing student Stephanie Stewart, please contact Maria Patrick at mpatrick@nwlc.org or 202-319-3021.