Pregnancy Discrimination Act Passed - History

Pregnancy Discrimination Act Passed - History


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The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed, prohibiting discrimination based on pregnancy or childbirth.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 (Pub.L. 95–555) is a United States federal statute. It amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to "prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy." [1] [2]

Pregnancy Discrimination Act
Other short titlesThe Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978
Long titleAn Act to amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.

The Act covers discrimination "on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions." Employers with fewer than 15 employees are exempted from the Act. [3] [4] Employers are exempt from providing medical coverage for elective abortions, unless the mother's life is threatened, but are required to provide disability and sick leave for women who are recovering from an abortion. [5]


What is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act? How Does the PDA Protect the Rights of Female Employees?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act made an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to explicitly protect women against pregnancy discrimination. According to the PDA, discrimination on the basis of childbirth, pregnancy, or other related medical conditions is considered illegal sex discrimination. The PDA disallows employers from discriminating against job applicants or employees due to their pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions. The PDA disallows discrimination when it comes to:

The PDA does not allow employers to preclude or limit women from performing certain jobs because they are pregnant or fertile. Policies that mostly impact women because they can get pregnant are also disallowed by the PDA. The PDA is only applicable to employers who have at least 15 employees. The PDA states that women who are pregnant or who have pregnancy-related conditions must be treated in the same way as other employees and job applicants who have similar limitations or abilities. Many states have also enacted laws when it comes to breast-feeding and pregnancy discrimination.


The Complicated History Behind the Fight for Pregnant Women's Equality

O n Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Peggy Young, a former UPS driver who had to go on unpaid leave &mdash rather than paid leave or adjusted duty &mdash when she got pregnant and a doctor told her to stop lifting heavy packages. Though UPS has since adjusted its leave policy for pregnant workers, the company maintains and a lower court agreed that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act doesn’t make it illegal to give pregnant employees different leave policies than non-pregnant ones. If the act did make such treatment illegal, they say, it would constitute special treatment. Young’s side, on the other hand, argues that making accommodations for pregnant workers is to treat them the same as other workers, not specially.

Unsurprisingly, several women’s rights organizations, like the Women’s Law Project and Legal Momentum, which is associated with the National Organization for Women (NOW), have filed an amicus brief in support of Young.

But, despite all the women’s-rights oomph behind Young’s case, the history of feminism and pregnancy discrimination isn’t so clear cut.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has pointed out, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978 to specify that discriminating against pregnant people is a kind of sex discrimination (after the Supreme Court case had earlier decided the opposite). It was less than three decades ago &mdash in 1986 &mdash that NOW, as well as the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, came out on the side of the employer in a case that sounds very similar to Young v. United Parcel Service. They aren’t exactly parallel, but many of the deep questions raised by the earlier case remain pertinent today. How much should childbearing be connected to a woman’s identity? Does respecting women require making allowances for that undeniable difference? Or would doing so hold women back by linking their legal identities to their function as mothers? How much inequality can be tolerated in the service of big-picture equality?

At issue was a challenge to a 1978 California law that required businesses to offer unpaid maternity leave. Lillian Garland had been a receptionist at a California bank when she took advantage of the state law and went on unpaid leave to have a baby in 1982 when she was ready to return to work, the position had been filled. Without her income, she was soon evicted and lost custody of her daughter, leading her to bring a suit against her former employer.

As TIME reported during the dispute, NOW and the ACLU ended up taking the bank’s side, preferring that employee benefits not be sex or gender-specific. “The question is, Should a woman with a pregnancy disability get her job back when other employees with disabilities get fired? You undermine your argument unless you say everyone is equally entitled to this benefit,” explained the ACLU’s Joan Bertin. In other words, anything that keeps an employee from working should be treated the same, whether or not it’s pregnancy, and no law should apply only to women. Meanwhile, feminist icon Betty Friedan and her allies saw things differently: in her view, the law treated everyone equally because it made clear that anyone, male or female, should be able to make decisions about having a family without the risk of losing his or her job.

“The time has come to acknowledge that women are different from men,&rsquo&rsquo Friedan said. &lsquo&rsquoThere has to be a concept of equality that takes into account that women are the ones who have the babies.&rsquo&rsquo

The next year, in 1987, the Supreme Court sided with Friedan, finding that the California law neither discriminated against men nor forced employers to treat women specially, as it did not bar companies from extending unpaid leave benefits to men as well.


— Dina Bakst, co-director of A Better Balance

Congress is considering a new bill that could provide women across the country who face pregnancy discrimination a clear channel for recourse. It took only eight years, six legislative sessions and thousands of lawsuits — including one that made it to the Supreme Court — to get to this point. And now it might finally pass.

The new bill, known as the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, or PWFA, was first introduced in 2012 and has been reintroduced in the House in almost every legislative session since. But it’s repeatedly failed because it lacked bipartisan support and a sense of urgency, advocates say.

This time, since the bill was introduced in February — in the midst of the pandemic that has pushed millions of women out of work, without protections or health insurance — it has received 225 sponsors, including 19 Republicans, injecting a high dose of optimism that the bill will be signed into law in the coming months.

The PWFA would clarify and strengthen the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which was passed more than 40 years ago as an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. That original law, for the most part, is ambiguous, experts say. Key terms are undefined and too often the burden falls on employees to prove discrimination. At its root, the law treats “accommodations” — slight and temporary changes to schedules or assignments for health reasons — for pregnant women as a fringe benefit, not a mandatory one.

The PWFA would address several of those loopholes. Among other things, it would require employers to enter into a negotiation with pregnant employees for any accommodations, creating a default expectation that businesses are on the hook to provide pregnant women with the help they need.

“If 88 percent of expectant moms are working in their last trimester, then it’s incumbent on us to recognize that making accommodations, like water breaks and bathroom breaks, is absolutely imperative,” said Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat of California and one of the original signers of the bill.

“It’s just a common sense piece of legislation to help keep women in the work force,” said Representative John Katko of New York, one of the Republican leaders behind the PWFA. “We have to err on the side of inclusiveness, not exclusiveness.”

‘It’s like a puzzle’

When the Pregnancy Discrimination Act passed in 1978, it made it illegal for employers to consider pregnancy in hiring, firing and promotion decisions.

But the law also noted that pregnant women or those affected by pregnancy- and childbirth-related conditions should be treated the same as, and receive the same benefits as, others who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.”

If that last part sounds vague, that’s because it is: It has been tripping up employers, employees and lawyers ever since it was passed, raising questions around what counts as “similar” and what kinds of benefits the employer should provide.

“That provision has been litigated through the roof,” said Dina Bakst, the co-director of A Better Balance, a national advocacy organization that provides free legal advice for pregnant women facing discrimination, and which helped Congress craft the PWFA. “Pregnant workers literally need to jump through legal hoops to prove that they’re being treated worse than others similar in their ability or inability to work.”

Recognizing a need, 30 states and several other local governments have enacted their own pregnancy accommodation laws, creating a patchwork of different laws. But this only intensified the confusion.

“There’s no clear standard,” said Alex Berke, an employment lawyer at the New York-based Berke-Weiss Law firm who specializes in pregnancy discrimination cases. “It’s like a puzzle.”

In practice, if a pregnant woman needs to switch to lifting lighter loads during her shift, she not only has to have that difficult conversation with her manager but — if her request is denied — she needs to find out if others who are “similar in their ability,” per the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, are being treated differently. At this point, she can get a lawyer involved and file a lawsuit that could take years to litigate, far outlasting the pregnancy itself.

Peggy Young, a former UPS driver, faced this exact scenario: She had requested lighter loads when she became pregnant in 2006 but was instead forced to take extended, unpaid leave. She sued UPS under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 2007. The case didn’t get resolved until the Supreme Court took it up in December 2014. The court ruled in Ms. Young’s favor, and she reached an undisclosed settlement with UPS in October 2015.

But for too many women, legal recourse is an unaffordable option so they continue working under conditions that put their pregnancies at risk. In a 2018 report, The Times reviewed thousands of legal documents and court records of pregnant women whose pregnancies resulted in miscarriages or premature labor, all because their requests for temporary modifications to their jobs were rejected.

And, despite the Supreme Court’s siding with Ms. Young, critical questions, like what constitutes “similar,” remain unanswered.

“I defy anyone to read that decision and tell me with certainty what an employer is obligated to do or what an employee’s rights are,” said Marc Freedman, vice president of employment policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful business lobbying group.

As a result, pregnancy discrimination has remained commonplace. In more than 66 percent of the dozens of discrimination cases filed between 2015 and 2019, courts sided with employers, stating that they didn’t need to provide pregnant women with accommodations, whether those were in the form of additional bathroom breaks or a stool to sit on, according to an analysis by A Better Balance.

In a 2018 case in Tennessee, Cassandra Adduci, who had asked her employer, FedEx, for a lighter duty, created a spreadsheet of 261 other employees who were given temporary work assignments. The court still found that those instances were not similar enough to her situation and denied her motion, Ms. Bakst noted.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received roughly 3,000 complaints from women per year from 2015 to 2019, largely equal to those it had received annually before the Supreme Court ruling. And that’s just cases that are reported.

“The statistics are part of the picture, but they don’t give a full picture,” said Charlotte Burrows, chair of the EEOC. “What we find across the board is that most workers, if they’ve experienced discrimination, don’t report it. Women in that situation are focused on ‘let me get another job.’”

Middle ground

In 2012, Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, joined forces with advocacy groups, including A Better Balance, and House colleagues, including Ms. Speier, to introduce the PWFA.

But the legislation languished in Congress, failing to gain traction among Republicans.

In 2019, after Democrats took back the House, the bill finally received its first congressional hearing. In another breakthrough, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an often right-leaning group, threw its weight behind the PWFA, because the bill’s “end goal was something we could support,” explained Marc Freedman, vice president of employment policy at the organization. The lobbying group collaborated with the bill’s supporters to revise the legislation in an effort to win bipartisan support.

“The folks that we worked with on this bill are not folks that we are usually in agreement with,” said Mr. Freedman, but “giving pregnant women the ability to stay in a workplace is a good thing, and we wanted to find a way to get to that endpoint.”

The two sides found middle ground: creating a formalized negotiation process and clarifying definitions for particular terms, including “known limitations” stemming from pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions, that would remove ambiguity for both employees and employers.

Last September, the PWFA passed the House with an overwhelming 329 votes, including 103 Republicans. “I don’t think anybody had that number in their head,” Mr. Freedman said.

But the bill didn’t advance to the Senate — in part because of a contentious election season — and had to be reintroduced in the current legislative session, where it stands today.

It is expected to pass the House in the coming weeks, again with overwhelming bipartisan support.

“We’re really working hard to have bipartisan support in the Senate, and hopefully, we’ll see movement this year,” Ms. Bakst said.

Today’s In Her Words is written by Alisha Haridasani Gupta and Alexandra Petri, and edited by Francesca Donner. Our art director is Catherine Gilmore-Barnes, and our photo editor is Sandra Stevenson.


What Happens If The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Becomes Law?

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) (H.R. 2694), which could have major implications for companies around the country. If enacted, the PWFA would require most employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees along the lines of what is required for disabled employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to the House Committee on Education and Labor’s research, 62% of workers have witnessed pregnancy discrimination on the job, which can take the form of “losing a job, being denied reasonable accommodation, or not being hired in the first place.” This discrimination can be particularly damaging to Black and Latina employees, “who are overrepresented in low-wage, physically demanding jobs,” a harsh reality that is intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic given that pregnant women “who contract the virus are more likely than non-pregnant women to be hospitalized.”

While federal laws, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the American with Disabilities Act, protect pregnant employees against certain forms of discrimination, the House passed the PWFA because “there is currently no federal law that explicitly and affirmatively guarantees all pregnant workers the right to a reasonable accommodation so they can continue working without jeopardizing their pregnancy.”

If it becomes law, the PWFA will provide that:

  • Private sector employers with more than 15 employees, as well as public sector employers, must make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers and job applicants so long as the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer
  • Pregnant employees cannot be retaliated against for requesting a reasonable accommodation and cannot be denied employment opportunities, or be required to take leave if another reasonable accommodation is available and
  • the remedies available would include lost pay, compensatory damages, and attorneys’ fees

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Hundreds of organizations, including the business community, civil rights groups, and employment/labor advocacy organizations have endorsed the PWFA. Next stop is the Senate, where the bill has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The intersection between pregnancy and disability discrimination, including the reasonable accommodations for employees that may be available, will continue to be a key employment law area to watch.


Efforts to Combat Pregnancy Discrimination

Forty years ago, on October 31, 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was signed into law to prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Since its passage, more women have been able to continue working while pregnant they have also been able to work further into their pregnancies without being forced to leave their jobs. But while the passage of the law was a critical step forward, it has not ended discriminatory practices targeting pregnant women.

Claims of pregnancy discrimination filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) increased sharply in the 1990s and 2000s, and pregnancy discrimination remains a widespread problem across all industries and regions of the United States. Too many women have been unable to make full use of the PDA to secure more equitable working conditions when they most need them, as courts have interpreted the law’s protections narrowly. Women—particularly those who experience discrimination based on a combination of biases across race, ethnicity, economic status, and gender—need federal policy solutions that are responsive to women’s unique needs. These measures would help ensure their ability to fully participate in the labor force and provide support for their families in workplaces free of discrimination.

An overview of pregnancy discrimination charge data

Charges alleging pregnancy discrimination under the PDA can be filed with the EEOC or with state or local Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs) around the country that are designated to receive charges filed under federal or state law. The last two decades have included periods of rapid growth of pregnancy discrimination charge filings. Looking at the 15-year period from fiscal years 1997 through 2011, nearly 6,000 federal pregnancy discrimination charges were filed with the EEOC and state or local FEPAs in fiscal year 2011—an almost 50 percent increase from the slightly fewer than 4,000 complaints filed in fiscal year 1997. Since then, the EEOC has changed the scope of the data that are publicly available, including only data on charges filed directly with the EEOC and not including charge data from local FEPAs. The EEOC-specific data from fiscal years 2012 through 2017 show relatively stagnant levels of complaints through 2017—although the change in how the data are reported provides a less complete picture of the scope of pregnancy discrimination nationwide.

Other research suggests that the prevalence of workplace inequities pregnant women face extend far beyond the number of pregnancy discrimination charges formally filed with the EEOC. For example, research conducted by Childbirth Connection, an initiative focused on improving maternity care, estimated that approximately 250,000 pregnant workers are denied requests for accommodations each year. In addition, many women fear retaliation from employers, which may lead them to not report pregnancy-related discrimination or to avoid asking for accommodations entirely.

One clear pattern that has emerged from available data is the disproportionate impact of pregnancy discrimination on some women of color and low-wage workers. Analysis from the National Partnership for Women and Families reveals that in fiscal years 2011 through 2015, black or African American women filed 28.6 percent of pregnancy discrimination charges filed with the EEOC, despite making up 14.3 percent of the female labor force. Women in lower-wage industries, including food services, health care and social assistance, and retail, also reported disproportionate rates of discrimination. Women of color are overrepresented in many of these low-wage jobs, and mothers in low-wage jobs are disproportionately black and Latina. There is a lack of available data, however, to undertake a more comprehensive assessment of racial and ethnic disparities in pregnancy discrimination charge filings within different industries or occupations.

Harmful expectations for pregnant women and mothers in the workplace

Pregnancy discrimination takes a variety of forms. It can include being denied a request for a temporary accommodation—such as not lifting heavy boxes, often called light duty, or not working with toxic chemicals—or being fired or denied a promotion as a result of being pregnant. Such denials may stem, in part, from perceptions or stereotypes about the capacities and abilities of pregnant women. They may also be motivated by biases about pregnant women or mothers themselves, particularly those from certain racial, ethnic, or economic backgrounds. These types of discriminatory practices can have both economic and health consequences. An employer’s refusal to grant a request for lighter duty can have dire results for pregnant workers, such as miscarriage or other serious health problems. Thus, it is critical to ensure that any policies aimed at reducing pregnancy discrimination specifically examine and incorporate strategies to eliminate racial, ethnic, and economic disparities in the treatment of pregnant workers. Doing so requires a closer look at how differing expectations and assumptions about motherhood—along race, ethnic, and economic lines—can drive outcomes harmful to women’s health and economic security.

Race, ethnicity, and economic status often can influence whether mothers and pregnant women in the United States are expected to continue working, and these views can affect how they are treated in the workplace. Research examining how race affects perceptions about mothers notes that black mothers, for example, are often expected to work because of long-standing stereotypes about who should provide labor. Black mothers have the highest labor force participation rates of mothers from any racial or ethnic group, a trend that has been true for years in 2015, 76.3 percent of black mothers were in the labor force, compared with 69.6 percent of white mothers. Yet their compensation does not match this increased participation: Black mothers consistently earn less than their white counterparts, and the gap only increases when compared with white fathers. This earnings gap not only illustrates the persistent devaluing of black women’s work, but it also can reinforce negative perceptions about black women’s worth, making them targets of discrimination. Similarly, many women working in low-wage jobs are undervalued and treated as if they are less deserving of respect. Women are overrepresented in these occupations, with 18.3 percent of mothers with young children working low-wage jobs, compared with 14.5 percent of the total workforce who are low-wage workers.

Many women of color also encounter attitudes that minimize their need for protections. When seeking accommodations during pregnancy, for example, black women may confront the long-held stereotype that their bodies are less sensitive and better-suited for demanding physical labor—a myth rooted in histories of slavery and the abuse of black women’s bodies. Black women’s pain, especially during pregnancy and childbirth, is systematically dismissed and disbelieved. These attitudes can also affect the ability of women of color to move into the workforce. Research on young, pregnant Latinas found that many felt discouraged from pursuing their education altogether or relegated to less rigorous programs once they became pregnant.

Lowered expectations about work combined with the devaluation of their contributions to the workplace may lead to the denial of accommodations and outright firing of pregnant workers. When a woman is denied pregnancy accommodations, she may be forced to choose between a healthy pregnancy and her livelihood.

State action to expand protections

While the federal PDA has provided pregnant women with critical protections, lawmakers at the national level can and should take important steps to strengthen protections further. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a bipartisan effort to address issues around accommodations for pregnant workers, has been introduced in every legislative session since 2012 but has yet to move forward. In the face of federal inaction to combat pregnancy discrimination, 23 states and Washington, D.C., have passed laws expanding protections for pregnant women in the workplace. Eighteen of these laws, which guarantee pregnant employees’ right to accommodations at work, were passed in the past five years, all with bipartisan support.

The passage of these state laws reflects important progress. But combating pregnancy discrimination must also include new strategies at the federal and state levels focused on the racial, ethnic, and economic disparities in discrimination and health outcomes for pregnant workers. This work should include more extensive research, by industry and occupation, to better understand racial and ethnic differences in pregnancy discrimination charges and determine where best to target enforcement resources. It also should include increased enforcement efforts focusing on industries where the most pregnancy discrimination charges are filed. Furthermore, it should include proactive efforts by employers—climate surveys, analyzing promotion rates for pregnant women by race and ethnicity, and training on implicit bias are all steps that employers can take to pinpoint potential problems in terms of the experiences and treatment of pregnant women within their workplaces.

Conclusion

Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace continues to limit women’s opportunities and economic advancement. It is pervasive in both its overt forms—firing pregnant employees and denying accommodations and leave time—as well as in its subtler forms, such as not considering pregnant women for promotions and raises. Comprehensive action is necessary to defend the rights of pregnant workers, including federal legislation, enforcement mechanisms, and an expansion of available research on the racial, ethnic, and economic disparities embedded in discriminatory practices. Steps to address bias against women of color and low-income pregnant workers specifically will promote a workforce in which all women have the support to make healthy, personal choices about their pregnancies without limiting their long-term success.

Nora Ellmann is a research assistant for women’s health and rights for the Women’s Initiative at the Center for American Progress. Jocelyn Frye is a senior fellow at the Center.


Pregnancy Discrimination Act

Editor's Note: The following is the text of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 known as the "Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

To amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

That section 701 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is amended by adding at the end thereof the following new subsection:

"(k) The terms 'because of sex' or 'on the basis of sex' include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions and women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work, and nothing in section 703(h) of this title shall be interpreted to permit otherwise. This subsection shall not require an employer to pay for health insurance benefits for abortion, except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term, or except where medical complications have arisen from an abortion: Provided, That nothing herein shall preclude an employer from providing abortion benefits or otherwise affect bargaining agreements in regard to abortion.".

Sec. 2. (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), the amendment made by this Act shall be effective on the date of enactment.

(b) The provisions of the amendment made by the first section of this Act shall not apply to any fringe benefit program or fund, or insurance program which is in effect on the date of enactment of this Act until 180 days after enactment of this Act.

Sec. 3. Until the expiration of a period of one year from the date of enactment of this Act or, if there is an applicable collective- bargaining agreement in effect on the date of enactment of this Act, until the termination of that agreement, no person who, on the date of enactment of this Act is providing either by direct payment or by making contributions to a fringe benefit fund or insurance program, benefits in violation with this Act shall, in order to come into compliance with this Act, reduce the benefits or the compensation provided any employee on the date of enactment of this Act, either directly or by failing to provide sufficient contributions to a fringe benefit fund or insurance program: Provided, That where the costs of such benefits on the date of enactment of this Act are apportioned between employers and employees, the payments or contributions required to comply with this Act may be made by employers and employees in the same proportion: And provided further, That nothing in this section shall prevent the readjustment of benefits or compensation for reasons unrelated to compliance with this Act.


The History of Women & Equality in the Workplace

Contrary to widespread belief, women have been employed outside the home well before the advent of modern times. It is true, however, that the scope of their employment has been subject to dramatic changes over the centuries. Often, the progress made by one generation was scaled back in the next, only to undergo a resurgence with shifting cultural trends. Let's look at some key landmarks in the history of women in the workplace.

Equal pay legislation (1872) – The ideal of “equal pay for equal work” is older than many people realize. In 1872, pioneering female attorney Belva Ann Lockwood, a member of the American Woman Suffrage Association, persuaded the U.S. Congress to pass a law guaranteeing equal pay for women employed as federal employees. (Lockwood later became the first woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court.)

District of Columbia minimum wage law (1918) – Washington D.C.'s minimum wage law was passed to protect the rights of women and children in the workplace by ensuring that they could “maintain decent standards of living.1” This did not last long, however.

Adkins v. Children's Hospital (1923) – This Supreme Court case struck down the District of Columbia minimum wage law by a 5-3 decision, on the grounds that it interfered with the right of laborers to negotiate their own wages.

World War II – The Second World War saw millions of women entering the workforce to compensate for the loss of manpower brought on by conscription. Rosie the Riveter became a widely recognized cultural icon. Unfortunately, with the conclusion of WWII many industrious women were pressured against their will to return to “traditional” female roles.

Equal Pay Act of 1963 – This landmark legislation forbade employers from paying women less money than men for jobs that require the same skills and responsibilities. Unlike the 1872 “equal pay” law, the Act covered the workforce as a whole, not just the federal government. The Act did allow unequal pay in order to recognize seniority, superior merit, and similar factors, so long as these considerations were not based on gender.

Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Coming on the heels of the Equal Pay Act, this legislation famously outlawed discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.2” Title VII of the act extended these safeguards into the workplace, specifically to businesses with 15 or more employees. Additionally, Title VII led to the establishment of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1965. The EEOC continues to enforce Title VII to this day.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 – An amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this broadened the scope of sex discrimination laws to guarantee that pregnant women were protected as well.

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 – The most recent of the major legislative acts to defend the rights of women workers, this was the first bill that President Obama signed into law. It is yet another amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act essentially extends the window of time in which an employee can file a lawsuit regarding an equal pay violation by recalculating the statute of limitations to begin with the last paycheck issued to the employee. Previously, the statute of limitations was determined by the courts to begin with the onset of the employer's discriminatory treatment.


Accommodating Pregnant Workers Is Now Law & It's About Time

The House passed a bill that requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers.

This past Friday, the House passed a bill that requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. The bill, called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, will ensure that expecting employees have a right to receive accommodations due to physical difficulties and limitations created by their pregnancies, which may include but is not limited to lifting heavy objects, USA Today explains.

The bill will complement the existing Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which passed in 1978 as an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As its name suggests, the act prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or conditions related to fertility. The act was passed in direct response to the 1976 court case General Electric Company v. Gilbert, which declared that pregnancy discrimination is not a form of sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act.

via Shutterstock / Deb_Edit

According to The Hill, the bill passed 315-101. The support was split roughly evenly between Democrats (101) and Republications (99).

Though there was widespread support for the bill, it received some opposition, particularly from Republicans, who argued that the bill may force religious-based organizations to make accommodations that go against their beliefs, such as approving time off in order to terminate a pregnancy.

Interestingly, the current Pregnancy Discrimination Act doesn’t make accommodations for abortion, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explains. The act doesn't require employers to provide medical coverage for elective abortions unless the pregnancy is threatening the mother’s life. They are, however, required to provide disability and sick leave for anyone recovering from an abortion, elective or not.

JUST IN: House passes bill mandating accommodations for pregnant workers https://t.co/e9vOmjHwqQ pic.twitter.com/0jYrcm7GnB

&mdash The Hill (@thehill) May 14, 2021

The Hill adds that a previous version of the bill was passed last September. Though the original bill received more support – with 329 voting in favor and 73 against – it never made it forward to the Senate.

While some women are able to comfortably work throughout their pregnancy, others need to slow down or completely take time off in order to prioritize their health. Certain jobs may have more of an impact on pregnancy, especially if the job is stressful, requires you to lift heavy objects or operate dangerous machinery, or exposes you to harmful chemicals and/or disease.

What to Expect explains that it’s important to know your rights as soon as you find out you’re pregnant. Do your research. But also, don’t be afraid to speak with your employer, especially if you must request accommodations. Remember, they have legal obligations to accommodate your pregnancy. The publication adds that it’s also important to take steps to minimize your stress and make yourself comfortable. Make sure to take frequent breaks, stretch often, and ensure your body is supported (try using ergonomic equipment, for instance).


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