On Wednesday, the Supreme Court delivered an important victory for pregnant workers [PDF] when in a 6-3 ruling it revived Peggy Young’s pregnancy discrimination case against UPS and sent it back to the lower courts for further proceedings. In so ruling, the Supreme Court declined UPS’s invitation to read a key piece of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act completely out of the statute books. This decision should put employers on notice that when they exclude pregnant workers with medical needs from accommodations that they make for workers with disabilities or injuries, they do so at their legal peril. Nevertheless, the Court’s decision also requires a somewhat unpredictable and fact-intensive analysis of these sorts of pregnancy discrimination claims. As a result, individual pregnant women may still face real uncertainty as to their workplace rights, and individual employers may choose to take their chances in litigation rather than promptly providing accommodations to women who need them. Congress should act now to affirm and strengthen this decision, to ensure that no pregnant woman is forced to choose between her job and the health of her pregnancy. Read more »
Bene’t Holmes, a 25-year-old single mother of a five-year-old son, worked at Walmart in Chicago when she became pregnant last year. Holmes describes having trouble lifting 50-pound boxes on the job when she was four months pregnant. Walmart’s written policy at the time was to provide reasonable accommodations for disabilities and on-the-job injuries, but not for pregnancy. Holmes knew that her work was putting excessive strain on her body, and her doctor said she needed temporary job duties that would be less physically strenuous. But according to Holmes, a store manager denied her request, explaining that when she took her job, she was expected to lift 50 pounds. The day after her request was denied, Holmes had a miscarriage while at work at Walmart.
Unfortunately, Holmes’ story is not unique. Today, more women are in the workforce than ever before and are working later into their pregnancies. While most women continue working throughout their pregnancies with no need for changes in their jobs, some—particularly those in physically demanding jobs—will need temporary adjustments to continue working safely. Frequently these women need only a simple accommodation—like avoiding heavy lifting for a few months, being permitted to sit occasionally during a long workday, or staying off high ladders. Read more »
Pregnant workers at Walmart got a break earlier this year. After months of worker engagement and activism, and a class action discrimination charge brought by the National Women’s Law Center along with our partners, A Better Balance and Mehri & Skalet, the country’s largest employer of women announced a policy shift that represented a big step forward in ensuring that pregnant women who need them will receive basic accommodations. Previously, Walmart’s policy had explicitly stated that pregnancy was a condition eligible only for minor job adjustments and that a pregnant worker was ineligible for the same reassignments and transfers of nonessential job duties offered to workers with disabilities. As a result, as we heard from many Walmart associates, pregnant workers with medical needs for accommodation were routinely denied them, even as Walmart provided these accommodations for workers with medical needs stemming from non-pregnancy-related disabilities and on the job injuries, in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). For many women at Walmart, having a baby meant losing a paycheck, or even a job. This is what happened to our client, “Melissa,” who Walmart pushed onto unpaid leave early in her third trimester when her doctor told her to stay off ladders and avoid lifting more than 25-pounds. Read more »
As we marked the 35th anniversary of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, we reflected on how pregnancy is still used as an excuse to push women out of work. It turns out lactating on the job can be just as dangerous for women. Take the case of Bobbi Bockoras. Bobbi works at a glass factory in Pennsylvania. She gave birth earlier this year and informed her employer she would be breastfeeding her child and so needed time to pump during her shift. Instead of providing Bobbi with a safe space to do so, her employer asked why she could not pump in a bathroom, which is prohibited by the federal law in light of health and privacy concerns. When Bobbi told her employer that she had a legal right to pump in a space that is not a bathroom, her employer placed her in a first-aid room, where her co-workers pounded on the door to get in, greased the doorknob to the room, and openly mocked her by insinuating she was a cow.
When Bobbi complained about these incidents, her supervisor instead placed her in an old locker room covered in dead bugs and with exposed electrical wiring and no air conditioning. He also retaliated against her by removing her from the day shift—which allowed her to breastfeed her baby on a regular schedule—to a rotating shift that took a toll on her body and caused her to produce less milk for her newborn. Read more »
Thirty-five years ago, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) was signed into law, remedying the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision in General Electric Company v. Gilbert holding that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy was not sex discrimination, but rather discrimination between pregnant and non-pregnant persons. Congress acted quickly to rebuke this analysis by passing the PDA, which recognizes what is obvious to most--that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex. The PDA also makes clear that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions must be treated at least as well as other employees “not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” As a result of the PDA, once common policies such as forcing pregnant women off the job regardless of their ability to work are no longer permissible.
Yet, pregnancy discrimination still persists more than a generation after the PDA’s passage. This is in part because stereotypes about pregnant women persist in the workplace, despite the law’s protection. But, even more troublingly, pregnancy discrimination also persists because some courts have read the language of the PDA narrowly, ignoring both its plain language and its intent and limiting its protections for pregnant workers. Read more »
Today marks the 35th anniversary of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). Passed in 1978, the PDA amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to make clear that the prohibition on sex discrimination in employment includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.
Before the PDA became law, a woman's pregnancy was often greeted with a pink slip — the minute a woman started showing, her employer showed her the door. In the 1974 case of Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur teachers won a legal challenge to mandatory maternity leave policies that forced pregnant public school teachers out of work four to six months before their due dates. The Supreme Court held that a public employer forcing pregnant women out of work at an arbitrary date — that often coincided with when they started to show — violated due process. This was a crucial victory for women workers. But the Supreme Court's decisions in two other cases from that same time period, Geduldig v. Aiello and General Electric v. Gilbert, left pregnant workers unprotected and unequal.
In 1974, in Geduldig v. Aiello, the Supreme Court held that pregnancy was not a sex-based classification and therefore California was permitted to exclude pregnancy-related disability from its temporary disability benefits program under the Equal Protection Clause. In 1976, in General Electric Co. v. Gilbertthe U.S. Supreme Court held that denying disability benefits to pregnant workers was also not sex discrimination under Title VII.
Not a moment too soon, in 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, effectively reversing these holdings, by declaring once and for all that pregnancy discrimination is indeed sex discrimination. The PDA requires that employers treat pregnant workers the same as other workers who are "similar in their ability or inability to work." Read more »
Today is Halloween and I’m likely dressed up as Rosie the Riveter – but more importantly, it’s the 35th anniversary of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The PDA amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include a prohibition on employment discrimination due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Yet, 35 years later, pregnancy discrimination is far from a thing of the past. While we’ve been working hard to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a bill designed to fix a loophole courts have opened in the PDA, it’s clear that the work of realizing all of the intentions of the PDA is far from over. Much remains to be done to enforce and strengthen the PDA.
Here at the Center, I often hear from women who were not offered small job modifications – like more frequent water and bathroom breaks, or a stool to sit on behind a cash register – and were pushed onto unpaid leave or even lost their jobs as result. Read more »
Today is a day for pregnant workers to celebrate. Five years ago today, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) became law and restored the promise of the ADA, making the workplace much more accessible for people with disabilities.
But wait, you might be saying, pregnancy is not a disability, so how does this protect pregnant women? Here is why we are celebrating the ADAAA:
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communication, and government activities and requires reasonable accommodations in the workplace. The ADAAA, signed into law on September 25, 2008, expanded the universe of disabilities that employers are required to reasonably accommodate—meaning, an employer must make an adjustment in the employee’s daily work that helps a person do his or her job. Read more »
Thirty-five years ago the Pregnancy Discrimination Act outlawed discrimination against pregnant workers. But still today, pregnant women across the country are being fired from their jobs, forced onto unpaid leave, or made to quit when they need temporary accommodations like staying off high ladders or refraining from heavy lifting. Many women can work throughout their pregnancies without any changes to their jobs. But for some pregnant workers – particularly those in low-wage and physically demanding jobs – slight job modifications can be crucial to their ability to continue safely working during pregnancy. Despite the fact that comparable accommodations are routinely offered when employees need them because of disabilities, employers often refuse to make even simple accommodations for pregnant women. As a result, many pregnant women are prevented from continuing to work even when they are willing and able to do so. Other women stay on the job despite a lack of accommodation because they can’t afford not to, potentially jeopardizing their health and the health of their pregnancies.
Today, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), in tandem with A Better Balance (ABB), is releasing It Shouldn't Be A Heavy Lift: Fair Treatment for Pregnant Workers, which tells the stories of eight women who were refused the same sorts of accommodations during their pregnancy that their employers provided to other workers. As the report describes, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) requires employers to treat pregnant workers the same as those “similar in their ability or inability to work.” So if employers make reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities, as they must under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the PDA requires employers to provide accommodations to pregnant workers with similar limitations, too. But all too often, employers and the courts misunderstand and misinterpret these requirements.
Take the case of Peggy Young, whom the Center has written about before. Young worked as an air driver for UPS. When she became pregnant, UPS told her she had to bring a doctor’s note with her restrictions. Her doctor recommended she lift no more than 20 pounds. UPS told Young that UPS has a policy of no light duty for pregnancy – even though the company provided it to employees injured on the job, those protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and to others with conditions ranging from high blood pressure to sleep apnea that prevented coworkers from maintaining a commercial driver’s license. Read more »