Today is the 38th anniversary of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the first federal law guaranteeing protections on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth and other related conditions under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
PDA forbids employers from discriminating against pregnant persons in their hiring, promoting, training or other job opportunity practices. It also requires employers who offer disability leave or modified assignments for those temporarily injured to extend those benefits to pregnant persons. The Act mandates that health insurers fully cover pregnancy related care in the same way they cover other medical conditions.
Even with the PDA, people across the country continue to face pregnancy discrimination across all races, states, and industries. Between October 2010 and September 2015, nearly 31,000 pregnancy discrimination complaints were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state-level employment agencies.
Just last week the Justice Department announced that two pregnant police officers who had been denied workplace accommodations–in violation of the PDA–would be awarded damages, and the department they worked for would modify its policy for pregnant employees. The women had originally been told that they could either stay on their physically demanding patrol duties or take unpaid leave and lose their health insurance, despite the fact that officers injured on the job were accommodated with light duty.
The top reason people chose to file pregnancy discrimination charges was after being terminated for becoming pregnant, followed by discriminatory conditions of employment, harassment and disciplinary action. The industries that received the most complaints were the ones that nationally employ the most workers and comprise the highest percentage of working women, with the top three being healthcare, retail and accommodation and food services. Despite making up only 14 percent of women in the workforce, black women filed nearly a third of the pregnancy discrimination complaints.
The PDA currently only extends accommodations to pregnant people if similar modifications are offered to other temporarily disabled, non-pregnant workers. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, introduced in June 2015 and supported by 95 percent of Americans, would require that all employers with over 15 employees provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant people, such as allowing them to carry water or sit while working. The Act would also protect workers who request such accommodations from retaliation or coercion.
At some point in their lives nearly 85 percent of women will become mothers, and they should not have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and earning an income.