Enforcing Pregnancy Bias Law of 1978? Long Overdue

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Last month, the EEOC gave legal experts an opportunity to tell stories about archaic forms of work discrimination suffered by today's pregnant women and caregivers. Such complaints are jumping, and employers are well advised to learn the laws.

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And mothers aren't the only targets. All types of caregivers--whether male or female, whether caring for the young or the old--are reporting discrimination, panelists said.

Take this story from the testimony as another example: A lumber company management trainee asked to take job-protected leave to care for his sick father. His employer warned him not to, and he was fired when he went through with his plan.

Caregivers, fortunately, have at least some friendly laws to back them up.

There's the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, mentioned earlier.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 guarantees certain workers 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave to care for a new baby, a relative or even themselves in case of illness or injury.

The Affordable Care Act of 2010, aka health reform, requires certain employers to provide reasonable break time and private spaces for nursing mothers to express breast milk for one year after the birth of a child.

All these laws make it easier for caregivers to work and keep supporting their families.

But they are not always enforced. And they're not enough to ensure equality.

"Women will never achieve equality until mothers do, and mothers will never achieve equality while pregnancy and caregiver discrimination remain widespread and startlingly open," Joan Williams, a professor of law and founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law in San Francisco, testified here last month. "The time has come to level the playing field for mothers and to create conditions where fathers can play a more active role in family care."

Amen sister!

Women are more responsible than ever for bringing home the bacon--or, to update a tired phrase, the pesto-encrusted chicken.

We are breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of the nation's families. We can't afford to lose our jobs or our income, and we aren't exactly going to stop bearing and raising the younger generation or caring for the older one (although we could use a lot more help doing it).

That's especially true for single mothers and for low-wage earners, whose jobs often lack the kind of flexibility or predictability needed to care for dependents.

Panelists called for solutions such as strong law enforcement, more guidance for employers, more data collection on the problem, and more coordination between the EEOC and the Department of Labor. Let's keep our eyes on all that.


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Allison Stevens is a writer in Washington, D.C. She writes about women's and other issues for a variety of groups and publications.

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I was the first woman attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the EEOC and drafted its Guidelines on Pregnancy and Childbirth, which were published in 1972 and later incorporated into the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.

Few people understand the current law relative to pregnancy and childbirth. For that reason, I wrote an article on that subject for the Women in Science website and you can find my article at


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