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A Startling Truth: Pregnancy Discrimination on the Rise

By John Sherman

In 1978 the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed, protecting women from being fired or discriminated against due to pregnancy. Yet in 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received almost 3,500 pregnancy discrimination charges. There were more cases of pregnancy discrimination filed in 2016 than in 1992. And those are just the cases that were filed, not taking into account the thousands of women who never moved forward with complaints. Startling, to say the least.

Pregnancy discrimination can take many different forms. In some cases, mothers return to work after their maternity leave ends only to find out they have been demoted or placed in a new position. In other cases, a woman is fired simply for announcing her pregnancy. That type of case seems almost too blatant. But shockingly enough, it happens. And then there are countless other situations of pregnancy discrimination that occur every day in U.S. companies.

What the Law Says

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was enacted to ensure that pregnant employees or “women affected by childbirth” are treated the same as childless workers. More recently the EEOC updated its expectations and guidelines to make clear that pregnant workers with a medical condition such as gestational diabetes, should be granted reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disability Act.
Far too often, employers refuse to grant pregnant workers accommodations based on medical needs. A problem this recent update by the EEOC hopes to curb.

The “Motherhood Penalty”

According to the The Atlantic, “Studies from 2004 and 2010 have shown that mothers start at a lower pay than their coworkers, make less money over time, and they receive raises and promotions less often than their colleagues—that is, when they’re kept around.” Employers and co-workers also commonly believe, incorrectly, that mothers don’t work as hard and aren’t as capable as their male or single women colleagues.

“The “motherhood penalty” is alive and well. When sociologist Shelley Correll and her colleagues sent out more than 1,200 fake résumés to employers in a large Northeastern city, mothers were significantly less likely than either childless women or fathers with identical qualifications to get interviews,” said the Washington Post.

A University of New Mexico study, reported by NPR, found that moms earn 14% less than childless women. Women also fall short, across every sector, when it comes to occupying leadership positions. The bias towards working mothers and women is evident, yet the perceptions are unfounded. In fact, many studies have shown quite the opposite. A Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis study concluded that mothers were actually more productive in their jobs than childless women.

In the News

It’s companies of all sizes and across every industry that are being accused of pregnancy discrimination. Since 2014, according to the EEOC, pregnancy discrimination resolutions have increased 17%. In the summer of 2015, AutoZone was ordered to pay an unprecedented $185 million in punitive damages to a former employee who claimed that after she became pregnant she was demoted, relocated and her wages cut. When she returned and asked for her job back her supervisor refused to promote her. Ultimately she was fired.

These types of situations are all too common. Unfortunately, many women don’t want to go through with a formal complaint or workplace lawsuit, which only perpetuates the situation and allows the mistreatment of pregnant women to continue and misperceptions of working mothers to prevail.

Why Many Women Don’t File Complaints

Unfortunately, many women don’t file complaints or stand up for their rights when faced with pregnancy discrimination. The reasons are many but the top 4 most common reasons women site are:

  • Feeling guilty
  • Believing that filing a law suit against their employer will ruin their career
  • An ignorance on the law
  • Don’t think they have enough evidence

While pregnancy discrimination filings are going up each year, the reasons listed above stop a large majority of women from moving forward with a complaint. For these women, the alternative is usually to either find a new job or accept an uncomfortable or hostile working environment.

If you believe you are being discriminated against based on pregnancy or because you are a mother, it is important that you stand up for your rights. Every time a woman speaks up, she makes it easier for other working mothers. And with pregnancy discrimination on the rise there has never been a more crucial time for women to stand up for their rights and fight back against discriminatory practices.

Sherman Law, PLLC, located in Portsmouth, NH, represents companies and employees in all types of employment-related matters, including claims involving sexual harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, and discrimination.

 

Young vs UPS: Is It Legal To Discriminate Against Pregnant Women?

Discrimination in the workplace is real and it happens every day. Some are discriminated based on their skin color, others are discriminated based on their sexual preference, and many are discriminated based on their sex.

This week the Supreme Court will hear a case, Young v UPS, that will decide if it is legal to discriminate against pregnant women.

After working as a delivery driver for UPS, Peggy Young became pregnant. This is not uncommon as 2.5 million working women become pregnant every year. As Peggy’s pregnancy progressed her doctor restricted her to light duty. The doctor said that Peggy should avoid lifting anything over 20 pounds.

Peggy went to UPS and asked to be reassigned to light duty activities. UPS denied her request and to add insult to their denial, they fired her as well. Not only did Peggy lose her paycheck she lost her healthcare too. This is why she chose to sue UPS for lost wages and expenses.

Some are saying this case is moot as UPS has already changed their policy, allowing pregnant women to work light duty jobs, but this case could set a very bad precedence.

Some lawmakers are not waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on this case and have already filed new legislation to strengthen the protections for pregnant women. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) authored the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), legislation which would strengthen the rights of pregnant workers to request accommodations during their pregnancy without fear of retribution.

The PWFA would secure the right of a pregnant worker to ask for workplace accommodations without fear of retribution. Today, women make up nearly half of the labor force, and three-quarters of women entering the workforce will be pregnant and employed at some point in their careers.

“A woman should never have to face a choice between her job and pregnancy,” Senator Shaheen said. “Women are a crucial part of our workforce, and they have every right to receive reasonable workplace accommodations to continue a healthy pregnancy while providing for their families and contributing to the economy.”

“Women make up nearly half of the workforce, and in Pennsylvania, approximately 96,000 women in the workforce give birth each year,” Senator Casey said. “Too many women still face discrimination in the workplace during pregnancy as some employers continue to refuse to provide reasonable accommodations. No woman should be forced out of a job because she is pregnant. Every employer should work to provide accommodations that will allow women to keep working safely through their pregnancies.”

The Senate version of the PWFA (S.942) currently has 33 co-sponsors, 32 Democrats and one Independent, Senator Sanders (I-VT).

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10) submitted identical legislation (H.R 1975) to the House and it currently has 140 co-cosponsors, again all Democrats.

“No woman should ever be discriminated against in the workplace simply because she is pregnant, and I was proud to help send an Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court supporting Peggy Young, whose treatment by her employer clearly violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act,” said Congresswoman Annie Kuster. “As a cosponsor of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which additionally prohibits employers from treating pregnant workers unfairly, I urge the Supreme Court to fall on the right side of the law and rule against UPS for its unacceptable, discriminatory treatment of Peggy Young.”

This case has created some strange bedfellows. Both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice groups have come out in support of Peggy and her case against UPS. Vox.com reported:

“Both the anti-abortion right and the feminist left have filed amicus briefs on behalf of Young, though they come at it from different angles. Women’s rights groups like the Women’s Law Project and Legal Momentum (formerly known as the NOW Legal Defense Fund) have signed onto briefs arguing Young’s side of the case. In one of those briefs, these groups argue that the Fourth Circuit was incorrect and ‘misconceive[d] the gender stereotyping behind pregnancy discrimination.’”

If both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice groups support stronger protections for working pregnant women, why hasn’t a single Republican signed on to support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act? Protecting the mother, protects the child, and the pregnancy.

This should be a slam dunk for Congress.

Or, is it just another example of how Congressional Republicans do not really care about working families and are blocking anti-discrimination legislation for their corporate campaign funders?

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