What to expect when you’re expecting

By Sarah Casteel, Clayton High School senior, St. Louis MO

While our society still faces sex-based workplace discrimination — clearly most often targeted at women — one would still think that enough progress has been made to accommodate mommies-to-be.

However, recent evaluations reveal that an outbreak of workplace discrimination complaints has occurred among pregnant women.

SEE THIS:  Bobbi Bockoras, Breastfeeding Mom, Allegedly Forced By Employer To Pump On Dirty Floor – via  Huffington Post last week.

Despite our celebration just weeks ago of the 35th Anniversary of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, a law which prevents employers from “treating a woman (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth,” women are still very much at risk of being forced to take unpaid leave, or even of being fired, because their employers will not accommodate for their relatively temporary circumstance.

Under the PDA, an employer who allows temporarily disabled employees to take disability leave or provides them with any other disability benefits must consider pregnancy to fall within these qualifications.  Yet, regardless of what the law says, pregnancy discrimination persists.

Members of Congress were prompted to construct this pregnancy protection Act by two Supreme Court decisions in the 70’s:

Geduldig v. Aiello (1973) Carolyn Aiello, a California resident, was temporarily disabled due to pregnancy — but the state’s Unemployment Insurance Code denied benefits to females in this predicament.  Aiello came together with other women who had been denied the same benefits and challenged this section of the Code as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Ultimately, in a 6-3 decision, the Court upheld the statute, claiming that adding pregnancy to disability insurance would be “extraordinarily expensive.”

General Electric Co. v. Gilbert (1976) Similar to the previous case, this case was about whether or not employers could legally exclude conditions related to pregnancy from employee disability, sickness and accident benefits.  Disregarding the several lower court decisions holding that excluding pregnancy from a health plan violated the gender discrimination section the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Court ruled in favor of General Electric.  Justice Rehnquist pointed out that — get this — pregnancy differs from other conditions because it is often “voluntarily undertaken and desired.”

Of course, this makes sense, because we know that nearly every pregnant woman consciously chose to become pregnant and desires to have a child at that point in her life.  Just kidding.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, between 37-70% of pregnancies in the United States are unintended.

Women complaining of this sex-based discrimination should have just gotten cosmetic surgery — at least that would have been covered by the plan.  Yeah, right.

The question now is, what can we do to stop this ridiculous, antiquated discrimination from continuing?

Well, we could always move to Germany — their maternity leave plan guarantees mommy AND daddy (or, you know, mommy and mommy) a 3 year job-protected leave following the birth of their child.

Unfortunately, such a policy will most likely never be taken up in good ol’ America.  However, Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania has got our backs, ladies.  He introduced (and re-introduced after it died last year) the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would “… eliminate discrimination and promote women’s health and economic security by ensuring reasonable workplace accommodations for workers whose ability to perform the functions of a job are limited by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.”  Essentially, the law would close any loophole, induced by court decisions, allowing employers to discriminate against pregnant women.  The goal is not only to ensure the woman’s job safety, but to ensure reasonable accommodations while working and while on maternity leave.

So, while some of you ladies may jump at the sight of pink, our goal right now is to make sure the pink slip disappears from our country forever.

 As the This Is Personal campaign claims, “No woman should have to choose between endangering her pregnancy and keeping her job.”  

Click here to tell your members of Congress to support the PWF now. 


Republished, by permission, from Progress Women.