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 »
Intimate partner violence is all too common. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about one in four women in the United States experience violence in an intimate relationship at some point during their lives including as many as 324,000 pregnant women each year. Intimate partner violence itself increases the likelihood of unintended pregnancy, and pregnancy can be an especially dangerous time for women in abusive relationships, as abuse often escalates during the pregnancy. In fact, the leading cause of death among pregnant and postpartum women in the U.S. is homicide.
We cannot ignore these numbers. Financial security is crucial for all pregnant women, but it can be a matter of life and death for pregnant women facing domestic violence. Domestic violence affects women of all ages, races, religions, and sexual orientations. There is one common thread: women need a way out. Economic dependence keeps women trapped in violent relationships. To get to safety, women need a way to take care of themselves and their baby. They need to be able to keep their jobs and rely on their income.
That is where the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) comes in. Introduced in both houses of Congress, the PWFA would let pregnant women continue to do their jobs and support their families by requiring employers to make the same sorts of temporary accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions that they do for disabilities when women need them to continue safely working during pregnancy—like a reprieve from heavy lifting duties, permission to stay off ladders, or the ability to sit on a stool behind the cash register. Read more »
Great news out of New York City today: a city-wide version of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act has passed! This bill will protect those pregnant workers in NYC who need temporary modifications to continue safely working during pregnancy, like a reprieve from heavy lifting duties, permission to take more frequent water and bathroom breaks, or the ability to sit on a stool behind a cash register. These protections will be hugely important especially to low-wage workers, who are most likely to work physically demanding jobs, like in retail and in food service, and whose workplaces are likely to have little flexibility in their policies. It ensures that workers who need adjustments to the job because they are pregnant have the same right to accommodation as workers who need adjustments because of disability. 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 »
Every time I think about why we need laws like the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, I feel sad and angry. To me, the law is just common sense: providing adjustments for pregnant workers on the job – adjustments that can be as small as a stool to sit on behind a counter, or permission to carry a water bottle on a sales floor – is usually free or cheap, helps pregnant workers continue to work and to provide for their growing families, and are good for business. The stories we hear from these pregnant workers make my heart sick from the injustice, and my brain dizzy from trying to comprehend the logic behind not providing these accommodations. After all, we offer seats on crowded trains to people who are pregnant all the time. It isn’t a heavy lift – and nor should it be for pregnant workers to get these workplace accommodations.
Yet, we hear time and again from employees who have been pushed onto unpaid leave, or terminated, just for asking for a small accommodation. Others have suffered complications in their pregnancies due to their employer’s refusal to accommodate them. For example, Hilda Guzzman’s employer refused to let her sit on a stool, which caused her to bleed and have premature labor pains. Read more »
Peggy Young, a pregnant UPS driver in Maryland, brought a doctor’s note to her employer stating that she could not lift more than 20 lbs. Her employer refused to honor the restriction—saying that light duty was only available to other classes of workers such as those injured on the job, those with disabilities recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and those who had lost their commercial driver’s licenses. Peggy Young sued for pregnancy discrimination and lost; the courts held that she wasn’t comparable to those workers who UPS accommodated.
If Ms. Young were seeking her accommodation today, the story might be much different. That’s because earlier today the Maryland governor just signed into law the Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Workers Act. Maryland’s law addresses a misreading of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which requires employers to treat pregnant workers the same as those “similar in their ability or inability to work.” Unfortunately, many courts around the country have held, like in Ms. Young’s case, that, under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnant workers are not similar to workers in these other categories. As a result, many pregnant women in Maryland and around the country have been denied minor and inexpensive accommodations, forced onto unpaid leave, been fired, or had to continue to do tasks that posed risk to their pregnancies, even while workers with comparable limitations have been accommodated.
Similar to the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act, a bill proposed on the federal level the Center has written about many times before, Maryland’s new law takes the comparator issue off the table and simply requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant-related disabilities as long as such accommodations do not present an undue hardship to the employer. 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 »