Mother’s Day Is Over—But Pregnancy Discrimination Isn’t

Women make up almost half the workforce today, and, if they become pregnant, most will work throughout their pregnancy. Given this reality, you probably think the stories below are works of a bygone era. Well, you’d be wrong.

—A woman was 16 weeks pregnant and worked as a cashier at a large retailer in New York City. One day she fainted and was taken to the emergency room. Despite doctor’s orders that she remain vigilant about drinking water, she was severely dehydrated. When the physician asked why she was not drinking enough fluids, she said that her boss would not allow her to drink water while working at the cash register.

—When Shelly (not her real name) became pregnant, she was working two jobs in Indiana to support her family: the overnight shift stocking shelves for a major national retail chain and the day shift packing items to ship for a medical supply company. Her doctor advised her not to lift more than 20 pounds. The medical supply company immediately accommodated these restrictions, but the major national retailer refused to modify her duties. She experienced a lot of pain while doing the heavy lifting and miscarried shortly thereafter.

—An airline ticket agent in Louisiana was told by her doctor not to lift anything heavy at work. Her employer refused to provide her with a “light duty” assignment and told her that she would be placed on unpaid leave if she brought a doctor’s note. Not having an income wasn’t an option, so throughout her pregnancy she continued to lift heavy bags and spent 10- and 12-hour days on her feet. Toward the end of her pregnancy, she suffered stress-induced toxemia and went into labor prematurely. Her child suffered numerous health complications.

—Julie worked as a full-time driver at UPS. The work can be physically exhausting. When she became pregnant, she requested a light duty position, just as she had done when she had been injured on the job. But UPS refused to accommodate her and put her on unpaid leave for the rest of her pregnancy.

Stories like these are all too common, and that’s why we need the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which was introduced in Congress on Tuesday.

Despite the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act more than 30 years ago, which prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, some employers continue to deny pregnant women the job modifications that could protect not only a woman’s pregnancy but also a family’s economic security, forcing pregnant women out of their jobs.

The PWFA would make it crystal clear to employers that they can’t treat pregnant women worse than other workers who have certain job limitations and instead must make reasonable accommodations if doing so doesn’t pose an undue hardship on the business.

Even though Mother’s Day is over, do one more thing for your mom and all the other moms out there: Call your members of Congress and ask them to co-sponsor the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act today. You can find the phone number for your representatives here and your senators here.

Crossposted from ACLU Blog of Rights

Photo courtesy of ACME-Nollmeyer via Creative Commons 2.0.


Vania Leveille is legislative counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office and Lenora M. Lapidus is director, ACLU Women’s Rights Project.