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 »
Amanda Roller was a call center employee in Kansas. After Amanda became pregnant she started experiencing morning sickness. Amanda’s supervisor repeatedly refused her requests to go the bathroom and instead told her that she would get Amanda a larger trash can so that she could vomit at her desk. Amanda asked again, and her supervisor again denied her request, saying, “We don’t pay you to pee.” Amanda was then demoted and eventually fired.
Unfortunately, Amanda is not alone. Across the country, pregnant women face discrimination in the workplace when their employers refuse to make adjustments to their job duties such as honoring lifting restrictions, allowing them to stay off high ladders, or even just letting them go to the bathroom to vomit.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) outlawed this type of discrimination in 1978 with its requirement that employers treat pregnant workers the same as those who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.” But too many lower courts have misinterpreted the PDA, holding incorrectly that it permits employers to provide accommodations to workers with disabilities or on-the-job injuries but deny those accommodations to pregnant workers. Read more »
My senior year of college, two of my roommates and I watched Teen Mom CONSTANTLY. I liked to pretend I wasn’t watching it, but the conversation usually went something like this:
Becka (standing in doorway): “Oh jeez, guys. You’re watching this?”
Arielle: “Yes. Absolutely.”
[10 minutes later]
Rachel: “…Do you want to sit down?”
Becka (still standing in doorway): “…..Yes. FARRAH’S CRYING FACE IS CRAZY.”
When you watch the show, the difficulties of teen parents and pregnant students become painfully clear. Recently, I was re-watching Season 1 on Netflix Instant, and it clicked – wow. The Pregnant and Parenting Student Access to Education Act would REALLY help these girls.
Title IX already affords a number of protections to pregnant & parenting students. This law requires that schools receiving federal funds not discriminate against students on the basis of sex, which includes pregnancy and related conditions like childbirth, pregnancy termination, and recovery. This prohibition against discrimination comes in a number of forms – for example, students must not be forced to attend a different program or school than their peers, must be given the opportunity to make up missed work for pregnancy-related absences, must be treated the same as if they had a temporary disability, and may not be excluded from sports or extracurricular activities.
The Pregnant and Parenting Student Access to Education Act (PPSAE) is designed to go beyond nondiscrimination by giving students the tools they need to succeed. It would enable school districts to – among other things – create graduation plans for pregnant and parenting students; provide academic support, parenting and life skills classes, strategies to prevent future unplanned pregnancies, and legal aid services; help pregnant and parenting students gain access to affordable child care, and revise school policies and practices to remove discouraging barriers. Pretty great, huh? Read more »
The law is very clear: you can’t fire a woman simply because she’s pregnant. You can’t force her onto unpaid “medical” leave when she’s capable of doing her job. You can’t discriminate against her, period, even if your customers would prefer not seeing pregnant women in the workplace. You have to treat her as well as you treat other workers who are similar in their ability or inability to work.
Yet despite these basic black-letter rules—enshrined thirty-five years ago in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)—employers often violate them, especially when it comes to pregnant women in low-wage jobs—women who have the fewest resources to fall back on if they lose their paychecks and the most difficulty finding help to enforce the laws that protect them. Read more »