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Archive for the ‘pregnancy discrimination’ Category

Lost pregnancies at a Verizon warehouse show the urgent need for a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

In a Tennessee warehouse supplying Verizon customers with their phones and tablets, pregnant women are routinely worked to the point of losing their pregnancies, lifting boxes up to 45 pounds through long shifts in heat that can reach more than 100 degrees. And there is no law that says their employer can’t do this to them. Sure, there’s the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, but even when it’s enforced, it has loopholes you can drive a 747 through. 

If companies “treat their nonpregnant employees terribly, they have every right to treat their pregnant employees terribly as well,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, who has pushed for stronger federal protections for expecting mothers.

That’s why Democrats keep introducing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, to strengthen protections for pregnant women. But Republicans won’t consider it, not that this stops them from proclaiming themselves to be protectors of family values.

Early miscarriages are very common and are typically associated with chromosomal abnormalities rather than anything a woman in early pregnancy might do. But that’s not what the New York Times is reporting on here. Several of the cases cited in this article involved later pregnancy loss, well into the second trimester when miscarriages are much less common, and even into stillbirth territory. One of the women interviewed for the story delivered a baby at 20 weeks that lived for 10 minutes. “My husband and I watched her die,” she said. This is much, much less common, and when it comes after a woman has worked for hours lifting heavy boxes, against her doctor’s advice and after her employer has refused to give her light duty, it should be a crime. That’s not all, either. After a worker in the same warehouse died on the job, “In Facebook posts at the time and in recent interviews, employees said supervisors told them to keep working as the woman lay dead.”

Verizon said “We have no tolerance—zero tolerance—for this sort of alleged behavior,” except, apparently, to the extent that it has been tolerating the behavior right up until a newspaper started reporting on it. The company says it is investigating the workers’ claims.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on October 23, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

Walmart sued for alleged discrimination against pregnant workers

Monday, September 24th, 2018

Federal regulators have filed a lawsuit against Walmart claiming the retailer forced pregnant workers to take unpaid leave and refused their requests for less physically demanding duties.

Companies are required by law to accommodate employee pregnancies the same way they would disabilities, according to an article on the lawsuit published by Reuters. The suit was filed Friday on behalf of Alyssa Gilliam and several other female employees.

In her complaint, Gilliam said she became pregnant in April 2015, at which point she requested “light duty or transfer to a less physically demanding job” to avoid any heavy lifting that might endanger her pregnancy. She said she was told “light duty” was only available “to employees on workers’ compensation.”

Gilliam claimed her requests for a chair, shorter work days, or additional breaks were also denied. She said that eventually, she was forced to transfer to a part-time job within the company, resulting in a pay cut and loss of benefits.

In November 2015, Gilliam said she submitted a doctor’s note to the company identifying a five pound lifting restriction. Walmart, in response, immediately placed her on unpaid FMLA (parental) leave, two full months before she was due to deliver.

The company allegedly denied requests for accommodations for other pregnancy-related medical restrictions made by other pregnant employees at the distribution center, the suit argues.

By contrast, Walmart “accommodated non-pregnant employees who were similar in their ability or inability to work.”

“For example, Defendant accommodated [distribution center] employees who had restrictions due to work-related injuries by providing them with light duty,” the suit reads.

“Defendant deprived Gilliam and a class of female employees of equal employment opportunities and otherwise adversely affect their status as employees, because of their sex and pregnancy.”

Julianne Bowman, the EEOC’s district director in Chicago, said in a statement Friday that Walmart’s alleged refusal to accommodate the pregnant workers amounted to a violation of federal law.

“What our investigation indicated is that Walmart had a robust light duty program that allowed workers with lifting restrictions to be accommodated,” she said. “But Walmart deprived pregnant workers of the opportunity to participate in its light duty program. This amounted to pregnancy discrimination, which violates federal law.”

The EEOC said it is seeking “full relief, including back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and non-monetary measures to correct Walmart’s practices going forward.”

In a statement Friday, Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove responded to the suit, saying the company’s anti-discrimination policies were in full compliance with the law.

“Our accommodations policy has been updated a number of times over the last several years and our policies have always fully met or exceeded both state and federal law,” he said.

The nation’s largest private employer, Walmart is reportedly facing similar lawsuits in other states, including Illinois and New York. In May last year, Hargrove issued a statement insisting the company was “a great place for women to work.”

According to Reuters, the company requested to have the Illinois suit tossed out earlier this year, but was denied. The New York suit is currently pending.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 22, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Melanie Schmitz is an editor at ThinkProgress. She formerly worked at Bustle and Romper. Send her tips here: mschmitz@thinkprogress.org.

Investment Bank Allegedly Retaliated Against Employee After She Announced Her Pregnancy

Friday, August 19th, 2016

Bryce CovertAfter working at the investment bank Jefferies Group for nearly 12 years, Shabari Nayak thought she was on track to become a managing director — especially after bringing her firm $3.75 million in revenue.

But then last year she got pregnant. In a lawsuit filed against the bank on Wednesday, she says everything changed after she announced that she would be having a baby.

Nayak “delayed announcing her pregnancy as late as possible because she feared her career would be derailed,” according to her lawyer Scott Grubin.

Her fears were quickly realized, she alleges. She claims that when she told her direct supervisor of the pregnancy in August of last year, he told her that her “priorities would be changing” after she had her child and offered to help her find a job that was “less demanding,” potentially in the human resources department. She declined, preferring to stay on track for a managing director position.

She got a nearly identical response, she says, when she told the global head of her division. “These two utterly insensitive and demeaning conversations made clear that in the minds of management, Ms. Nayak’s pregnancy had irreversibly changed — if not ended — her investment banking career at the bank,” according to the complaint.

Months later, her supervisors told her she had “taken her foot off the gas pedal,” she claims. Then she says she was denied her year-end bonus, which reduced her overall compensation by nearly 60 percent. Yet she had gotten the bonus the year before when she brought in nearly $1 million less in revenue, while a similar male coworker in her group who hadn’t generated any deal revenue got a “substantial” bonus, according to the complaint.

“What should have been a most joyous time in her life, as Ms. Nayak welcomed her first child into her family, has been transformed into a demeaning and anxious ordeal by the bank’s discriminatory and retaliatory actions against her that has effectively derailed her personal and professional aspirations,” the complaint says.

Nayak no longer works at the bank, claiming that she was forced to resign while on maternity leave after experiencing the discrimination and watching her complaints go unaddressed.

“No reasonable person should be or could be expected to work in the environment created and fostered at Jefferies,” she said.

Now that she’s gone, she says her group at the investment bank has 32 men and no women in senior vice president or managing director positions.

A Jefferies spokesman said the lawsuit is “entirely without merit,” saying she “voluntarily resigned,” and that it will defend against it.

Pregnancy discrimination is already prohibited by federal law, but it’s still incredibly common. Complaints of pregnancy discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rose 65 percent between 1992 and 2007, outpacing the increase of women in the labor force, and there were more than 3,500 filed just last year.

A number of investment banks have been hit with discrimination lawsuits that depict a male-dominated and testosterone-fueled culture, and pregnancy discrimination comes up a lot. The finance industry was hit with 97 complaints of pregnancy discrimination in 2013. A lawsuit last year filed by Cynthia Terrana against investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald alleged that she was fired just 11 days after she told her manager she was pregnant.

Other lawsuits against Wall Street firms have alleged a “boys club” atmosphere of trips to strip clubs and sexual assaults against female employees that went ignored, the systemic undermining of women’s careers by denying them the most lucrative clients, and repeated sexual harassment that included female employees being pressured to sleep with executives.

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on August 19, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert  is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

Woman Claims She Was Fired By The Same Company Twice For Being Pregnant

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015

Bryce CovertAshley Lucas alleges she was fired not once, but twice, for being pregnant from her job with Service Boss Inc., a company that provides clients with household services such as cleaning, plumbing, and landscaping.

In a lawsuit filed last month in federal court, Lucas says she began working at the company in February 2014 but says she was fired in April, then reinstated, only to be fired again in June. She was pregnant at both times, but she says she had no work restrictions and was able to perform her job. She also says that she was a reliable employee. Given all of these factors, she believes she was fired because she was pregnant.

Lucas also describes management making derogatory comments about her pregnancy. According to her lawsuit, she was told that being pregnant made her unreliable and a liability, that she shouldn’t be working while pregnant, and that she should file for disability or welfare benefits.

Lucas’s lawsuit claims the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits sex discrimination in employment, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). She’s seeking to ensure that the practice of firing pregnancy employees ends at Service Boss, as well as back pay, punitive damages, and legal fees. The company could not be immediately reached for comment.

Lucas may be somewhat unique for being fired twice for the same pregnancy, but she’s not the first employee by far to be terminated for getting pregnant. A nonprofit had to pay $75,000 for having a “no pregnancy in the workplace” policy that led to the termination of a pregnant employee. A woman says she was fired after being told to “stay home and take care of [her] pregnancy.” Another says she was fired after being told her pregnancy would make her “move too slow.” The terminations can be swift: one woman claimed she was fired two weeks after telling her employer she was pregnant, while another says it only took hours.

Employers have been warned that these actions run afoul of existing law. Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its guidance for the first time since 1983 to remind businesses that Title VII and the PDA protect employees from being fired for being pregnant and also require them to be treated the same as any others “in their ability or inability to work” when it comes to accommodations and work adjustments so they can stay on the job. UPS also lost a high-profile case at the Supreme Court this year in a lawsuit brought by Peggy Young for failing to give her light duty during her pregnancy despite giving it to workers with disabilities or even suspended licenses.

And violating the law could come with steep financial consequences — in July, for example, AutoZone was made to pay a record-breaking $185 million in damages in a case where an employee said she was demoted and then fired for being pregnant.

Even so, pregnancy discrimination appears to be an increasing problem. Charges filed with the EEOC have increased from more than 3,900 in 1997 to more than 5,000 in 2013, and they have also outpaced the influx of women joining the labor force. The majority of charges are from women claiming they were fired for being pregnant. Meanwhile, an estimated quarter million women are denied their requests for pregnancy accommodations at work each year.

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on September 8th, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

Nonprofit Ordered To Pay $75,000 Over ‘No Pregnancy In The Workplace’ Policy

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Bryce CovertUnited Bible Fellowship Ministries, Inc., which provides housing and care to people with disabilities, will have to pay a former employee $75,000 for firing her after she became pregnant to settle a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The organization has had a “no pregnancy in the workplace” policy in place that meant it fired anyone who became pregnant and refused to hire anyone applying for a position while pregnant. It admitted that the former employee, Sharmira Johnson, performed her job as a resource technician providing care to residents well and didn’t have any medical restrictions that would keep her from carrying out her duties. Yet it fired her, arguing it was justifiable in order to ensure her safety, that of her unborn baby, and the safety of its clients.

That argument didn’t hold up in court. U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore found that United Bible “recklessly” failed to comply with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, race, religion, and other characteristics, by having the anti-pregnancy policy. The organization also has a contract with the Texas government, which requires it to comply with anti-discrimination laws. The court held that it failed to show that all pregnant women are unable to perform their duties safely. The judge awarded Johnson about $25,000 in back pay and overtime plus interest, as well as $50,000 in damages for emotional and mental suffering.

 

“This decision is another in a long line of federal court cases rejecting employer policies based on assumptions and stereotypes about a pregnant woman’s inability to work,” said Claudia Molina-Antanaitis, the EEOC attorney in charge of the case, in a press release. “Employers cannot impose paternalistic and unsubstantiated views on the alleged dangers of pregnancy to exclude all pregnant women from employment.” United Bible didn’t respond to a request for comment.

While federal law should already prevent workplace discrimination against pregnant women, it is still pretty widespread.

Some of it is a good deal more subtle than United Bible’s blatant “no pregnancy” policy. An estimated quarter million pregnant women are told each year that they can’t have small changes like switching to lighter duty or getting a stool to sit on so that they can keep working at their jobs safely. That means many are either forced onto unpaid leave before their babies are born or simply fired. Others stick it out and risk health complications, including miscarriage.

 

But many women have claimed that they were fired almost immediately after telling their employers that they had become pregnant. These companies don’t have as explicit policies as United Bible’s, but the effect is the same. A survey of decades of cases like these shows that employers frequently rely on stereotypes about pregnant women, like the idea that they simply won’t return to work after they have their babies, and vilify them to justify firing them.

Yet it has become more and more common for pregnant women to remain in the workplace before and after they give birth. The share of first-time mothers who work during their pregnancies has increased from less than half in 1960 to two-thirds today, while 80 percent work into the last month. On the other end, nearly 60 percent of women are back at work six months after they give birth and more than 70 percent of women with young children are in the workforce.

Given the discrimination pregnant employees still face at work, some states have gone above federal law to enact stricter requirements. Forty-five have protections against pregnancy discrimination, while 14 and Washington, D.C. have laws requiring employers to give pregnant employees reasonable accommodations so they can keep working. A federal law has been introduced multiple times to require all of the country’s employers to give pregnant workers those accommodations, but it hasn’t gained traction.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on May 29, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

For Women In This State, Getting Pregnant Will No Longer Mean Losing A Job

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Bryce Covert

On Tuesday, the New York State legislature passed a bill aimed at shielding pregnant women from workplace discrimination, which the governor has said he will sign. The new law will require employers to give pregnant workers accommodations so they can stay on the job unless the employer can show it would create an undue hardship. Those changes can be as small as a stool to sit on or more frequent bathroom breaks, and can also include light duty for women with lifting restrictions or other work transfers. Across the country, an estimated quarter million women are denied these requests every year, which means they often end up pushed onto unpaid leave, fired, or experience health complications including miscarriage. Many more women don’t even ask for accommodations because they fear retaliation.

Existing laws, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, should in theory protect pregnant women from discrimination. And in fact, the Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of Peggy Young, a woman suing UPS over its refusal to give her light duty when she became pregnant. That ruling helps bolsters women who need accommodations, but its impact is likely to be limited. “To get an accommodation under the Supreme Court’s standard in Young v. UPS, pregnant workers must navigate a long, convoluted, and costly process to prove discrimination,” Dina Bakst, co-president of advocacy group of A Better Balance, told ThinkProgress. “Most women simply don’t have the luxury of time or the resources to make that happen.”

Instead, laws like New York’s make things clear from the outset, before women are pushed onto leave or fired. Women “just need clear law when they ask for a minor adjustment at work so they can stay healthy for a few months,” Bakst explained. More and more women will need these adjustments, as the share of first-time mothers working while pregnant has shot up from less than half in 1960 to two-thirds today, and 80 percent keep working into their last month.

New York’s new law could come to the aid of women like Betzaida Cruz Cardona, who lives in Henrietta, New York and is suing Savers, her former employer, for firing her from her cashier job hours after she handed in a doctor’s note stipulating she couldn’t lift more than 25 pounds even though she was never required to do so. She says she has since become homeless. While she argues that the company violated existing federal law, things could have been easier if she lived in New York City, which already has a Pregnant Worker Fairness Act on the books that would have made it clear that her employer had to accommodate her needs.

Eleven other states have also implemented laws requiring reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. A federal bill that would cover all women has been introduced in Congress multiple times, but it has yet to advance.

This blog originally appeared on ThinkProgress.org on May 6, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

 

Court Says Lactation Is Related to Pregnancy, Refrains From Saying, "Duh"

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Donna photo redwrote about a really stupid case out of Texas where a federal court said that “lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition,” and thus decided that “firing someone because of lactation or breast-pumping is not sex discrimination.”  I was irked, to say the least. Lactation not related to pregnancy and childbirth? Really?

Well, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals which, to its credit, refrained from saying, “Well, duh,” has unanimously ruled that lactation is, indeed, related to pregnancy and is therefore covered by Title VII. EEOC reports this about the decision: “The Fifth Circuit noted the biological fact that lactation is a physiological condition distinct to women who have undergone a pregnancy.  Accordingly, under Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, firing a woman because she is lactating or expressing milk is unlawful sex discrimination, since men as a matter of biology could not be fired for such a reason. The case was remanded back to the lower court for a trial on the merits.”

Personally,  I think the 5th Circuit should be applauded, not only for its common sense, but for the fact that it did not openly mock the lower court’s ruling. I wouldn’t have had that much self-control.

I should also point out that almost all employers are required to provide nursing mothers with break time to pump breast milk, along with a private space that isn’t the restroom to do so.The Fair Labor Standards Act requires this, so employers who fire moms for lactating may also run afoul of this law, even if they aren’t large enough to be covered by Title VII.

I rarely get to say this, so: Hooray for common sense in the courts!

This article was originally posted on Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home on September 27, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Donna Ballman‘s new book, Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed or Sue the Bastards, was recently named the Winner of the Law Category of the 2012 USA Best Books Awards and is currently available for purchase. She is the award-winning author of The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers, a book geared toward informing novelists and screenwriters about the ins and outs of the civil justice system. She’s been practicing employment law, including negotiating severance agreements and litigating discrimination, sexual harassment, noncompete agreements, and employment law issues in Florida since 1986. Her blog on employee-side employment law issues, Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home, was named one of the 2011 and 2012 ABA Blawg 100 best legal blogs and the 2011 Lexis/Nexis Top 25 Labor and Employment Law Blogs.

She has written for AOL Jobs and The Huffington Post on employment law issues, and has been an invited guest blogger for Monster.com and Ask A Manager. She has over 6000 followers on Twitter as @EmployeeAtty. She has taught continuing legal education classes for lawyers and accountants through organizations such as the National Employment Lawyers Association, Sterling Education Services, Lorman Education Services, Alison Seminars, the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, and community organizations.  Ms. Ballman has published articles on employment law topics such as severance, non-compete agreements, discrimination, sexual harassment, and avoiding litigation. She’s been interviewed by MSNBC, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Lifetime Television Network, the Daily Business Review, and many other media outlets on employment law issues. She was featured on the Forbes Channel’s “America’s Most Influential Women” program on the topic of severance negotiations and non-compete agreements.

Women Haven’t Gained A Larger Share Of Corporate Board Seats In Seven Years

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

In addition to grappling with a persistent pay gap, working women also have to deal with extreme difficulty ascending to powerful corporate positions, according to a report by the research organization Catalyst. As Bryce Covert explained at The Nation:

Women held just over 14 percent of executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies this year and 16.6 percent of board seats at the same. Adding insult to injury, an even smaller percent of those female executive officers are counted among the highest earners—less than 8 percent of the top earner positions were held by women. Meanwhile, a full quarter of these companies simply had no women executive officers at all and one-tenth had no women directors on their boards. […]

Did this year represent a step forward? Not even close. Women’s share of these positions went up by a mere half of a percentage point or less last year. Even worse, 2012 was the seventh consecutive year in which we haven’t seen any growth in board seats and the third year of stagnation in the C-suite.

Overall, more than one-third of companies have no women on their board of directors. But economic evidence shows that keeping women out of the board room is a mistake. According to work by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, “companies with at least one woman on the board would have outperformed in terms of share price performance, those with no women on the board over the course of the past six years.”

This post was originally posted on Think Progress on December 11, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author:  Pat Garofalo is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.

A Bill to Make Employers Less Mean to Pregnant Women

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Whatever our political conflicts, we can generally agree that we should treat pregnant women nicely. We don’t hesitate to help them carry their groceries or give them a seat on the bus. Yet when pregnancy comes up as a political issue, lawmakers are far more fixated on what an expecting mom’s womb is doing, rather than her hands–as she slips the check under your plate and hopes for a decent tip–or her mind–as she loses sleep wondering whether she’ll lose her job as her due date nears.

Under current law, it’s easy for bosses to mistreat pregnant women or force them off the job. Yet the men who run Congress are too busy sponsoring anti-abortion bills and slashing social programs, it seems, to protect pregnant women in the workplace. One of the many labor bills left off the congressional radar is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, (PWFA) which would help prevent pregnant women from being arbitrarily fired and make employers better accommodate them.

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, the PWFA builds on existing anti-discrimination laws by extending specific protections to pregnant employees. The legislation directs employers to “make reasonable accommodations” for an employee or job applicant’s limitations stemming from “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” unless this would pose “undue hardship” on the business. In addition, as the New York Times’ Motherlode explains, the law would bar employers from “using a worker’s pregnancy to deny her opportunities on the job [or] force her to take an accommodation that she does not want or need.” The bill also directs the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to set regulations for implementing these laws, including “a list of exemplary reasonable accommodations.”

It was introduced earlier this year in the House and this month in the Senate–and not surprisingly, faces pretty bleak odds for being enacted.

The bill expands on legislation passed in the 1970s that protects women from discrimination related to pregnancy. Those earlier policies have been interpreted in such a way as to let companies refuse to make reasonable adjustments for pregnant workers. Similarly, federal and state family-and-medical-leave acts protect women from discrimination related to a seeking medical care, including for pregnancy. But many expecting mothers are left unprotected by these measures; the FMLA for example covers only unpaid leave–not the paid leave time that’s essential to protect the health of workers and their families–and generally only workplaces of 50 or more employees.

The PWFA would not shield expectant women from mistreatment altogether. The “undue burden” clause may give employers some leeway, for instance, to refuse to provide accommodations in job duties or schedules for a mom-to-be. Still, the measure would press firms to make sensible modifications for pregnant workers, such as no longer lifting heavy weights.

As with many women’s rights issues, this is also a matter of economic fairness. About 60 percent of women who gave birth in a given year also worked during that time, according to recent data; many moms are primary breadwinners, too. Making workplaces more pregnancy-friendly isn’t about coddling women; it’s about putting pregnancy on par with other medical or physical challenges workers face. Sarah Crawford, director of workplace fairness at the National Partnership, noted in an email to Working In These Times:

The result for working pregnant women is that they are too often forced to quit or take unpaid leave because their employer denies them reasonable accommodations that are lawfully required for other workers with temporary disabilities.

Losing work a double-blow for pregnant women who need to prepare financially for a new member of the household. Even if they’re not outright fired, Crawford points out, “some employers force pregnant workers into unpaid leave prematurely, which means that women are forced to take a heavy financial hit just as they are about to give birth.”

Moreover, if a pregnant woman is unfairly fired, she may have trouble simply getting hired as a new mom, which some employers may see as a liability. (Not to mention affording quality child care so she can hold onto that new job).

The National Partnership also notes major health implications for women who lose a job during pregnancy, and for their babies: The stress incurred may raise “the risk of having a premature baby and/or a baby with low birth weight.” If she can earn more before having the baby, she can potentially take more time off for maternity leave–meaning more time for bonding, breastfeeding and other essential nurturing tasks for parents that our labor structure tends to ignore.

Ironically, companies themselves suffer when they arbitrarily dismiss workers for pregnancy or childbirth-related reasons, because high workforce turnover is counterproductive in the long run.

Yet many workplaces still make women bear the brunt of the cost of childbearing. So next time you graciously offer your bus seat to a pregnant woman, just think about how our politicians fail to stand up for the labor rights of those who do the work of bringing us into the world.

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on September 27, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Michelle Chen work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.

Poor, Pregnant, and Fired: Caregiver Discrimination Against Low-Wage Workers

Friday, April 1st, 2011

bornstein_stephanieNew report documents how low-wage workers are discriminated against at work based on their caregiving responsibilities at home

A new report by U.C. Hastings’ Center for WorkLife Law details the extreme measures to which low-wage workers must go to keep a job and care for their children or elderly family members—and the sometimes shocking discrimination they face at work despite these efforts.

The first of its kind to analyze caregiver discrimination lawsuits filed by low-wage workers, the report—Poor, Pregnant, and Fired: Caregiver Discrimination Against Low-Wage Workers—exposes mistreatment at work around caregiving responsibilities.  The powerful cases profiled in the report, which attracted the attention of the National Law Journal, include:

  • employees encouraged to get abortions or asked about their birth control usage, or sexually harassed because of their roles as caregivers;
  • pregnant workers fired on the spot or immediately after announcing their pregnancies, or banned from certain positions no matter what their individual capabilities;
  • workers routinely denied access to their legal rights, especially to family and medical leave;
  • employees being set up to fail, with unreasonable goals or tasks assigned to them, after caregiving responsibilities are discovered;
  • low-wage men who care for children or elderly parents subjected to extreme gender stereotyping at work; and
  • pregnant women of color denied access to accommodations regularly granted to their pregnant co-workers of a different race.

Even in family emergencies, the report shows, low-wage workers are refused the small kinds of workplace flexibility that are commonplace for middle-wage and professional workers.  One retail worker whose case is profiled in the report was fired for insubordination for carrying a water bottle at work—despite a doctor’s note recommending she do so to treat recurring urinary and bladder infections due to her pregnancy.

Ironically, small changes by employers can make a significant difference in keeping experienced employees in their jobs.  They can also prevent costly liability: several lawsuits profiled resulted in large verdicts, including four with recoveries of between $2.3 and $11.65 million, despite the plaintiffs’ (a housekeeper, a shipping dispatcher, a bakery delivery driver, and a hospital maintenance worker) low wages.

“Caregiver discrimination lawsuits brought by low-wage workers document clearly that work-family conflict is not just a professional women’s problem.  In fact, it’s most acute and extreme for low-income families,” said study author Stephanie Bornstein, Deputy Director of the Center for WorkLife Law.  “To help families move out of poverty, we can’t just focus on ‘fixing’ the worker.  We also need to look at how caregiver discrimination in low-wage jobs undercuts economic stability.  Discrimination not only hurts workers and their families; it leads to high turnover and legal liability for employers.”

Another case profiled in the report is that of a pregnant woman who was forced out of her retail sector job onto unpaid leave despite her desire to work as long as possible while pregnant.  Her supervisor had allowed her perform all of her job tasks while avoiding heavy lifting, and she was working successfully.  Yet several weeks later, when her doctor sent a letter to the company’s HR office to cement this arrangement, she was immediately sent home and told that she could not be accommodated—in violation of California law.

A soon-to-be single mother, the woman was “trying to do the best she could for her baby,” and was confused as to why she was being sent home when she wanted to work, said Jamie Dolkas, Staff Attorney at Equal Rights Advocates in San Francisco, who represents the woman.  “As a low-wage worker, she was really disenfranchised….[T]hey didn’t take the time to explain to her what her rights or options were—they just gave her something in writing that essentially said we can’t accommodate you, go home,” explained Dolkas.

The report profiles 50 cases—selected from among hundreds identified by Center for WorkLife Law research—of low-wage workers who experienced discrimination at work based on their efforts to be both a good worker and a good parent or family member.

The Center for WorkLife Law is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that works with employees, employers, attorneys, unions, and policymakers to fuel social and organizational change around work-life issues.  The Center is part of the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

About the Author: Stephanie Bornstein is an employment attorney and Deputy Director of WLL. Prior to joining WLL, she worked as a staff attorney at Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), a public interest law center focused on gender discrimination in employment and education. At ERA, Bornstein represented plaintiffs in individual and class action employment matters, specializing in pregnancy discrimination and family and medical leave. She was also among a small group of advocates to help author and enact California’s Paid Family Leave insurance program, the nation’s first comprehensive paid leave law. In addition, Bornstein worked as a legal editor of employment law products at Nolo Press, a leading publisher of legal books for non-lawyers.

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