Today the West Virginia legislature took an important step forward in ensuring that no pregnant woman in that state is forced to make an untenable choice between keeping her job and protecting the health of her pregnancy. The state’s House of Delegates unanimously passed the West Virginia Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act (PWFA). This is the latest in a string of state and local unanimous and near unanimous votes in support of strengthening protections against pregnancy discrimination – including in New Jersey, New York City, and Philadelphia.
Although many women can work throughout their pregnancies without any changes in their job, some women find at some point during a pregnancy that their job activities begin to pose a challenge – especially in physically demanding low-wage jobs and jobs that are traditionally held by men. Many of these women could continue to work without risk to themselves or their pregnancies with slight job modifications. However, too often their employers deny pregnant workers’ requests for simple accommodations like a stool that would allow a pregnant cashier to sit instead of stand, or an exception from a rule against drinking water while working – which can have disastrous consequences for the woman, her pregnancy, and her family.
The West Virginia Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act addresses this problem by making it unmistakably clear that employers must provide reasonable accommodations for workers’ limitations that arise from pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions unless this would create an undue hardship for the employer – just as they must already do for workers who have temporary disabilities. Read more »
Five years ago today, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first bill that President Obama ever signed. The Act restored critical protections against pay discrimination that the Supreme Court stripped away in its disastrous decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. It made clear that the time limit for pursuing pay discrimination claims under federal law on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age, religion and disability re-starts each time an employee receives a discriminatory paycheck – reversing the Supreme Court’s holding that the stop-watch on bringing pay discrimination claims runs only from the time of an initial pay-setting decision. This common-sense law kept the courthouse doors from being slammed shut on countless women who, like Lilly Ledbetter, only discover years after an initial discriminatory decision was made that they are being paid less than their male counterparts.
The Ledbetter Act has resulted in real, concrete gains for victims of pay discrimination. Wage disparities often go undetected because employers threaten to punish employees who voluntarily share salary information with their coworkers. Because of the Ledbetter Act, workers who learn that they have been paid unfairly have been able to challenge and remedy pay discrimination that otherwise would have gone unchecked. Read more »
Great news out of New Jersey! Yesterday, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill into law that protects and supports pregnant women in the workplace. The new law bans pregnancy discrimination and requires employers to reasonably accommodate pregnant workers so that they can continue working safely through their pregnancies. By signing the bill, Gov. Christie joins the unanimous New Jersey Senate and 77-1 New Jersey Assembly that support reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. As a result, fewer pregnant workers will be forced off the job at the moment they can least afford it. Read more »
2013 was quite a year in the fight for fair treatment for pregnant workers! The issue of providing workplace accommodations for pregnant workers has gotten nationalattention in the media, and has helped to build momentum for progress on legislation at the federal, state and city level. In a national poll, over 90% of likely voters polled supported workplace protections for pregnant women.
In 2013, the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act gained 113 cosponsors in the House of Representatives, and 20 cosponsors in the Senate. The bills, which are led by Rep. Nadler in the House of Representatives and Sens. Casey and Shaheen in the Senate, would make unmistakably clear that employers have a duty to accommodate pregnant workers who need minor job accommodations to continue safely working and providing for their families while maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Bills providing protections for pregnant workers were passed in Maryland and New York City. Read more »
Asia Myers’ story is all too common. After suffering a threatened miscarriage, Asia brought her employer a doctor’s note with a lifting and pushing restriction. If Asia had been injured at her job, as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Hope Healthcare Center in Michigan, or if she had a medical condition other than pregnancy, this would have been no problem. With a doctor’s note, these other categories of employees were routinely given light duty assignments such as hair and nail care for residents, shaving residents, paperwork, feeding residents, and performing showering tasks that don’t require lifting.
But Asia was pregnant and Hope Healthcare Center maintains a discriminatory policy that denies pregnant employees reasonable accommodations that it permits for non-pregnant employees with similar restrictions. So when Asia asked for light duty, she was refused. Hope Healthcare Center forced Asia to choose between a steady paycheck and a healthy pregnancy. When she chose her pregnancy she was required to take unpaid leave. She lost her health benefits and struggled to make ends meet at a time when she most needed healthcare and a steady paycheck.
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 »