When Senator Elizabeth Warren shared her story of being fired, many years ago, because she was pregnant, she encouraged other women to share their stories, too. And they are. Although Warren’s experience happened in 1971, seven years before the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, discrimination against women who are pregnant or who are perceived as likely to become pregnant, is still very common. Even though federal protections are in place to prevent workplace discrimination against pregnant women, the discrimination can be very hard to prove. The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) received nearly 3,000 complaints of pregnancy discrimination in 2018 alone.
The Many Faces of Pregnancy Discrimination
Pregnancy discrimination comes in many forms. Many women are refused jobs or fired because they are pregnant, but for most the discrimination comes in other ways such as being turned down for promotions previously offered, being demoted or being denied reasonable accommodations. For each woman who stands up to the discrimination, there are many more who are afraid to speak up because they rely on their paychecks and will need them even more to support their growing families. Many women are afraid to let their employer know they are pregnant and afraid to ask for reasonable accommodations with good reason, retaliation is all too common.
Pregnant women are often denied accommodations as simple as being allowed to keep a water bottle nearby while working so that they can avoid bladder infections and maintain a healthy pregnancy.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was introduced by Congress in 2012 and has been reintroduced each year since. Many states have passed their own version. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was amended in 1978 to forbid discrimination based on pregnancy. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides further protections for women with certain impairments related to pregnancy.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness act would strengthen and clarify those protections.
Pregnancy Discrimination Continues Today
In 2018, the EEOC received 2,790 complaints of pregnancy discrimination. That does not account for complaints made at the state and local level and, of course, many women never file a complaint. A 2013 study by Childbirth Connection estimated that 250,000 pregnant women are denied reasonable accommodations that they request and that even more simply do not request the accommodations they need.
The numbers on denying accommodations, firing, lowering pay and denying opportunities to pregnant women do not paint the full picture. There is an overwhelming bias against women in the workplace, and pregnancy discrimination simply reveals that bias. Many employers, including other women, make the assumption that a woman who chose to become a parent is not committed to their job and is not reliable, when those same assumptions are almost never made about men who choose parenthood.
If you or someone you know is in need of an employment law firm, find a qualified attorney in your area.