The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (Pub.L. 95–555) amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. This Act outlaws discrimination “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” Before this law existed, employers could discriminate against pregnant employees without any consequences. For example, women in physically demanding jobs who could no longer lift heavy objects during pregnancy could be fired. Now, “if an employee is temporarily unable to perform her job due to pregnancy, the employer must treat her the same as any other temporarily disabled employee; for example, by providing light duty, modified tasks, alternative assignments, disability leave, or leave without pay.” The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was a historic step in women’s rights movement, enabling more mothers to exist in the workplace.
Recent events in the news illustrate how this law protects expectant mothers around our country. From Walmart to Wall Street, pregnancy discrimination can occur in any place of employment. For example, a recent New York Times investigation (NYT) found that expectant mothers in physically demanding jobs miscarried after employers denied their requests for accommodations. Certain employers ignored doctor’s notes that their employees provided, which stated that accommodations were necessary to protect their health. Four employees who worked at XPO Logistics warehouses, three of which provided doctor’s notes, had miscarriages when their employer refused to provide requested accommodations. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act ensures that these women can sue their employer for damages. No woman should have to choose between losing her unborn child or her job. The enforcement of this act will help ensure that no mother has to face this awful decision.
Pregnancy Discrimination can affect women in the workplace in other ways. Expectant mothers face a new type of glass ceiling: the “maternal wall.” The maternal wall may exist when a woman becomes pregnant and is subsequently unfairly discriminated against at work. She may be denied a promotion, a bonus, or her salary may lag behind her male peers who do the same work. “Some women hit the maternal wall long before the glass ceiling,” said Joan C. Williams, a professor at University of California Hastings College of Law who has testified about pregnancy discrimination before. “There are 20 years of lab studies that show the bias exists and that, once triggered, it’s very strong.” The Pregnancy Discrimination Act gives expectant mothers legal rights to help ensure that their career progress won’t be hindered by having a child. Another New York Times report (NYT) demonstrates this workplace issue. For example, Rachel Mountis won several awards for being a top salesperson at Merck, a pharmaceutical company, when she got pregnant. She was laid off three weeks before she gave birth. Stephanie Hicks, another mother in the workplace, sued the Tuscaloosa Alabama police department for pregnancy discrimination (Hicks v. City of Tuscaloosa, Alabama). Ms. Hicks was breastfeeding her newborn at the time, and her doctor told her that her bulletproof vest was so tight that it risked causing a breast infection. In situations like these, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act helps protect mothers from being unfairly hindered in their careers.
Pregnancy discrimination can also take the form of unequal pay for the same work. We often hear about the “gender wage gap,” but the pregnancy wage gap may be even more significant. According to a 2014 analysis by a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, each child chops 4 percent off a woman’s hourly wages. Similar findings came from researchers at the Census Bureau who recently examined the pay of spouses in the United States. Two years before couples had their first child, the men earned only slightly more than the women at work. By the time their children turned 1, however, the pay gap had doubled to over $25,000. The researchers said that women taking maternity leave, dropping out of the workforce, or working fewer hours during motherhood could contribute to this wage gap, but it does not explain all of it. The researchers claimed that, among many employers, there is a significant and unfair bias against pregnant workers. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act offers mothers a vital legal avenue to fight against this harmful bias.
Legal protection under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act ensures that mothers can reach their highest potential in the workplace. Many mothers are doing just that. For example, Serena Williams competed in 2017 Australian Open while pregnant. Ultimately, she not only competed but also won the tournament for the seventh year in a row. Her pregnancy did not hold her back from pursuing her professional goals. Serena’s story demonstrates how resilient pregnant mothers can be and that they can still achieve the highest standard in their professional field. Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of Youtube, is another example of a high-performing working mother. She is the mother of 5 children while leading one of the nation’s largest media companies. Susan has publicly emphasized the importance of fitting in family time around her busy work schedule. Her story also demonstrates how mothers can achieve professional success when they are not unfairly discriminated against in the workplace.
As evidenced by the news stories above, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 protects both the health and career prosperity of working mothers. When mothers are given their lawful legal protections in the workplace, they can offer vital industry contributions and rise to the top of their career field. We know that motherhood is already one of the toughest jobs out there. For mothers who also pursue professional careers, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is essential to their workplace prosperity. As a woman who desires to have children one day, I am so thankful to live in a country where a law like this one exists. I do not want to have to choose between having children or a career. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act will afford me protections in the workplace so that I may pursue not only my dream of having children but also my dream to become a successful wrongful termination attorney.
For more info about pregnancy discrimination act in the workplace, you can contact an employment lawyer.