by Lenora Lapidus In New York, a broad coalition of advocates including the New York Civil Liberties Union is working hard to pass the Women’s Equality Act, a 10-point legislative proposal that will advance women’s equality in the workplace and in society. The WEA would stop pregnancy push-out in NY by making it clear that employers must grant reasonable accommodations for pregnancy-related conditions. (It also closes a host of other loopholes in state law extending protections against sexual harassment in the workplace, helping to achieve pay equity, enhancing the safety of domestic violence survivors, and increasing protections against discrimination in employment, housing, credit, and lending.) Julie Desantis-Mayer is one of those women who was pushed-out of her job when she became pregnant. Julie had worked as a package driver at UPS for nearly ten years before becoming pregnant. Because her job is physically demanding, requiring her to deliver heavy packages for up to 14 hours per day, she requested a light-duty position when she became pregnant. She knew that UPS routinely grants this kind of temporary adjustment to workers with injuries and other temporary conditions that prevent them from lifting heavy packages. Yet her employer refused, and instead forced her out onto unpaid leave for the rest of her pregnancy. Julie filed a complaint of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protesting this treatment, represented by the ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties Union. But she shouldn’t have had to; Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978 to clarify Title VII, which was passed in 1964, to make sure that workers like Julie are not pushed out of the workplace when they become pregnant. However, employers have ignored the law and many courts have allowed companies to treat pregnant workers worse than other workers with disabilities or temporary injuries who are given minor accommodations that enable them to stay on the job. Around the country, women are fighting back against this kind of discrimination by supporting state laws like New York’s Women’s Equality Act and federal laws like the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to address the problem.
Because most American women will become pregnant at some point during their careers and many of those will return after giving birth and need to pump breast milk at work, requiring companies to keep those employees on the job applying the same policies and accommodations they use to keep other temporarily injured or disabled employees at work is not only fair, it’s common sense. Further, providing paid family and sick leave to employees with caregiving responsibilities enables parents to both earn an income to support their families and provide the care and support their children or elderly parents require when they are sick. For this reason, the Equal Pay Today! Campaign is urging the governors in all 50 states to support policy changes needed to ensure that women will no longer suffer pay reductions due to pregnancy and caregiving responsibilities. We also call on all governors to take executive action or propose legislative changes to end employer practices that result in less pay for the same job, job segregation, retaliation against workers for discussing their pay, and wage theft.
(Lenora Lapidus is Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project)