Over the past five years the number of Pennsylvania women who filed a pregnancy discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has increased by 30% — peaking at 190 women in fiscal year 2018. Dozens of other women have filed similar complaints with the state’s Human Relations Commissions and nongovernmental organizations such as the Women’s Law Project.
Pregnancy discrimination often happens in insidious ways — as revealed by a recent controversy involving Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.
In October, Warren shared a video on Twitter in which she recounts being fired from her teaching job after becoming visibly pregnant in 1971. Some questioned the veracity of Warren’s story, implying that without a direct admission that the cause of termination was the pregnancy, the allegation cannot be verified.
But that’s just not how discrimination — of any kind — works.
One mechanism to discriminate against pregnant women is to deny basic accommodations such as more frequent restroom breaks or temporary lighter duty. As long as the employer can show that no other employee gets these accommodations, denying them from pregnant women is legal under federal law.
That is why 27 states intervened and enacted labor protections for pregnant women. For example, since 2014, in New Jersey — where Warren faced discrimination in 1971 — employers have had to provide accommodations to pregnant women upon request based on advice from a physician.
In 2014, Philadelphia enacted an ordinance ensuring “reasonable accommodations” for pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions discrimination. Workers who have been denied these accommodations should file a complaint with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations to pursue the case under the city’s protection. Those filing with the state or EEOC should be funneled back to to the PCHR, but cases could fall between the cracks leaving the worker unprotected — like anyone who works in Pennsylvania outside the city.
Rep. Sheryl M. Delozier, a Republican representing Cumberland County, has introduced a pregnancy discrimination protection bill. The bill includes an exemption for employers if the reasonable accommodation would impose an undue burden on the employer.
Enacting labor protections for pregnant women to ensure their well-being and economic stability during and after pregnancy is a no-brainer. It is also an opportunity for Harrisburg to get together and do some good for Pennsylvanians in a bipartisan fashion — an increasingly rare event.
Taking a step back, pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is a reminder of how vulnerable workers are to employers’ productivity requirements. No one should lose a job for taking a few more daily bathroom breaks — whether they are pregnant, diabetic, or had one too many glasses of water.