Samples Discrimination Pregnancy Discrimination Act

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

1339 words 5 page(s)

When Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978, it was an amendment to the sex discrimination area of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and like that act, which provided sweeping changes to the social fabric of the United States, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act’s roots went much deeper than the decade in which it was promulgated in. In fact, the legal foundations of the act commenced in the 1908 case Muller vs Oregon. In this case, the Supreme Court upheld a decision restricting women that were pregnant to 10 hour workdays based upon the concept that the condition did not enable women to work in the same capacity as their male counterparts.

By the 1950’s and 1960’s there were several states that enacted legislation not permitting women to work at all while pregnant and they could not be hired for a position if they were pregnant or even for a certain length of time after delivery. In 1971, however, the Supreme Court ruled in Reed vs Reed that the Equal Protection clause within the 14th Amendment applied to women so males should not be considered their superior. This was the first time in the history of the law the Equal Protection clause was invoked in matters of gender.

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During 1970 and 1971, the rights of schoolteachers were beginning to rise to the public consciousness as many of them were forced to take an unpaid maternity leave commencing from anywhere into their 4th to 6th month of pregnancy on the grounds their condition made them unable to do the job correctly and it would be a distraction for the students. That was until another Supreme Court case in 1974, Cleveland Board of Education vs. LaFleur, where the highest court in the land ruled unpaid leave regulations were unconstitutional. Legal scholars consider this case to be a landmark for women to achieve equal rights in the work place.

Two more Supreme Court cases in 1970’s, the first being Geduldig vs Aiello (1974) and General Electric vs. Gilbert in 1976, paved the way for the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. In Geduldig, the court’s opinion stated the State of California’s Disability Board policy of dividing people for medical benefits into pregnant women and non-pregnant persons was not applicable because all people were entitled to medical benefits under the law and cannot be excluded from medical disability benefits based on pregnancy. In the Gilbert case, General Electric was attempting to do the same thing by excluding pregnant women from their benefits plans. The Supreme Court ruled the same as in Geduldig that this was sexual discrimination protected by the Equal Protection clause in the 14th Amendment. These cases were the legal framework for developing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.

The act itself, bans an employer from discriminating on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or medically related conditions. What this entails is treating an employee or applicant unjustly in any act of employment, which includes hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, lay-offs, bonuses, leave, health insurance or any other terms that fall beneath the employment contract. Employers cannot implement written or unwritten policies within their own administration restricting employees due to pregnancy, childbirth or medically related conditions. They must allow the employee to perform their work for the period they determine and they must keep that position open until an employee returns from childbirth, just like if the employee that was on leave for a disability or any other medical condition would be entitled to.

An employee is also allowed to take paid leave for childbirth or a medically related condition and under the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, they are entitled to take up to 12 weeks off due to a documented instance that is paid. An employer is not allowed to retaliate against an employee who invokes this legislation if they feel they are being discriminated towards under the language of the statute. In addition, an employer also has no extra responsibility to protect a pregnant employee from dangerous work conditions and cannot single out a pregnant employee for specific tasks due to their condition.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act also provides nursing mothers with the time to take breaks to deal with the situation of a nursing child up until one year after the child’s birth. An employer also must provide a place, other than a restroom, that is free from the sight of other workers and the public so they can express their breast milk. In addition, the statute also incorporates protections for childcare, such as the employee is fully capable of performing their job although they have children to care for. This includes placing an employee in this situation in a lower paying, less prestigious position and not referring to men as caregivers, only the female staff.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act certainly has made an impact on workers and employers within the United States since its implementation. In its early years, the effect was marked and very positive. It banished many laws or policies that were place in the employment environment that had only discriminated against pregnant women, but women in general. Over the course of the last three and half decades since its ratification, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act has possibly lost some steam. This is due to the fact that no matter what the legal, social or political ramifications may be prejudice and stereotypes are both extremely difficult to eradicate and there situations may also arise where employees are either too afraid to use this protective legislation or do not realize this option exists. Also, the law is prey to interpretation by the judge of the court a case appears in and many of them in recent years have viewed the law in a different capacity than what it was taken for shortly after it came into being.

What is meant by this, is there are examples of fairly recent case law where a claim by a pregnant worker is not successful unless she proves another employee with a similar disability or work allowance in the same exact set of circumstances is was allowed an accommodation by the employer that she was not or she must prove the employer had a specific intent to harm her only because of her pregnancy. These cases are often extremely difficult to prove under that burden of proof. They also rely solely on the discretion of the judge’s interpretation of the statute.

For example, last year the Fourth Circuit court ruled against Peggy Young, who was a UPS worker that requested an accommodation for lifting while pregnant. Although the company had offered various solutions that were similar to many other workers with disabilities or even DUI convictions, the court ruled against Young. They found UPS was within their realm of accommodating her needs as a pregnant woman. Therefore, they did not violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Employers have also been vastly affected by this legislation as they must deal with women taking medical leaves and light restrictions which could affect their productivity if not handled in the appropriate fashion by them. They now need to take into consideration the needs of their employees rather than numbers, results and thinking of all the days that employee may not be able to work. For some this could be quite difficult, especially if it is a small business where the loss of an employee on maternity leave may come at a crucial time in the business cycle, but employers need to remember, it is not only the law of the land, but look at the situation in a different fashion. Would you want your wife, sister, aunt, mother, or cousin to be discriminated against for natural biological condition that provides the gift of life? Also, if an employer treats that employee appropriately, nine time out of ten, that employee will deeply appreciate the consideration and that employer will earn their respect as well as undying loyalty. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is truly a win/win scenario for everyone involved and its impact will be felt for both workers and employers for years to come.