As our children spend today dressed up in costumes, carving pumpkins, and eating way too much candy, let’s take a moment to celebrate the moms who created all those lovely trick-or-treaters.
On this day, 35 years ago, President Jimmy Carter signed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act into law, recognizing the pervasive threat of workplace discrimination to the health, safety, and economic security of pregnant women and their families.
Before the PDA, employers could legally fire or refuse to hire pregnant women. Indeed, employer policies that discriminated against pregnant women were upheld by the courts because pregnancy was regarded as “a voluntarily undertaken and desired condition.”
The PDA finally addressed this sexist line of thinking (and notably with bipartisan support) by amending Title VII to clarify that sex discrimination in employment includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
Thirty-five years later, pregnancy discrimination complaints are still on the rise. From 1992 to 2011, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported that pregnancy discrimination complaints increased by 71 percent, particularly among low-wage earners and women of color.
While some of the rise in complaints may be due to the fact that more women are in the workforce, significant injustice persists because many employers refuse to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women. As a result, women are still being forced out of the workplace to avoid putting their health and the health of their babies at risk.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 1975/S. 942), sponsored by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D – N.Y.) and Senators Robert Casey (D – Pa.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D – N.H.), would help strengthen the PDA by ensuring that employers provide reasonable accommodations to those pregnant women who want to continue working.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a chance to make clear that Congress wasn’t playing a trick on our nation’s mothers when it promised non-discrimination based on pregnancy. With “family values” a guiding maxim on both sides of the aisle, Congress should act now to protect the health and financial security of our nation’s mothers.