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I have previously blogged about instances in which pregnant women have unsuccessfully sued their employers for discrimination. However, if the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which was introduced into the Senate on September 19, 2012 by U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) is passed, pregnant women will have protections under the law which they do not currently have. In 2010, 62 percent of women who gave birth in this country held jobs outside of the home. The notion that no law exists to require employers to accommodate their pregnant employees' condition in order to ensure their health is ludicrous.
Currently, the only legal protections available to pregnant women is provided by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act which only makes it illegal to fire a woman because she is pregnant. However, that law does not cover the medical limitations and requirements which may prevent a pregnant woman from completely performing her job duties. Why We Need the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Stories of Real Women, compiled by the National Women's Law Center, among others, provides accounts of pregnant workers who were denied minor adjustments to their job duties that they needed to continue safely working throughout pregnancy. It also explains the painful health and economic consequences to these workers and their families. Once such example is that of a pregnant retail worker in Indiana who was denied light duty when the doctor recommended lifting restrictions and as a result suffered pregnancy complications and was fired:
When Shelly (name changed to protect privacy) became pregnant she was working two jobs to support her family: the overnight shift stocking shelves for a major national retail chain and the day shift packing items to ship for a medical supply company. Shortly after she became pregnant, her doctor advised her not to lift more than 20 pounds. When she told the medical supply company about her lifting restrictions, the company immediately accommodated these restrictions. The major national retailer refused to modify her duties; requiring her to continue to life heavy items. She experienced a lot of pain while doing the heavy lifting and miscarried shortly thereafter. When she became pregnant months later she was told she still could not get any modification of her duties, despite management's awareness of her previous miscarriage. She was told her only option was to take unpaid FMLA leave. Her doctor refused to state on the company's FMLA form that she needed to go on leave, since she was a healthy woman, and only needed to avoid lifting more than 20 pounds. When she communicated this to the company, she was fired. She filed a case in court against the company but lost. In her words, the experience "destroyed my life, ruined my health, and ruined my marriage."
This is exactly where the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will help women workers and their families. The bill would provide the same protections to pregnant women that are extended to those with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). The bill, modeled after the ADA would prevent employers from forcing pregnant women out of the workplace by placing them on unpaid leave, firing them or forcing them to quit when they are denied the accommodations they need to continue working safely. The bill would also help ensure that employers provide job modifications when it would allow a woman to continue working during pregnancy.
If you agree that the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a necessary protection for women workers, contact your Senator and urge him or her to support the bill.
Have you been the subject of discrimination for being pregnant, seeking accommodations or taking maternity leave ? If so, please tell us your story.
Abbey Spanier Rodd & Abrams, LLP, located in New York City, is a well-recognized national class action and complex litigation law firm.
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