All too often, pregnant workers, especially those who work in low-wage and physically demanding jobs, are forced to choose between their health and work.
On May 19, 2021, a settlement was reached on behalf of a pregnant worker in Dallas who was fired after requesting that her company, Greenhouse Outpatient Center, hold her job beyond 30 days while she recovered from a Caesarian-section. Despite her doctor’s insistence that she recover for eight weeks, the company denied her request and terminated her. In response, the EEOC filed a lawsuit on her behalf against Greenhouse and its parent company American Addiction Centers alleging pregnancy discrimination under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) because they had granted similar requests for non-pregnant employees who needed time off. American Addiction Centers settled for over $146,000 in damages and agreed to implement trainings on pregnancy discrimination, impose disciplinary actions against discriminatory managers, and update their family leave policy to include leave beyond 30 days.
While this outcome is a great win for workers at American Addiction Centers, discriminatory acts towards pregnant workers should not happen in the first place. The PDA, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits discrimination against pregnant workers by their employers. However, far too many workers slip through the cracks because the PDA does not explicitly provide workers with the right to pregnancy accommodations absent undue hardship on the employer. Workers are forced to engage in an onerous process of finding other co-workers who have requested accommodations when they need a minor adjustment to their job to stay healthy–just as the Greenhouse employee was forced to do. Through A Better Balance’s free and confidential helpline, we hear countless stories from pregnant workers about employers routinely denying them reasonable accommodations. Workers from across the country have shared that even when recommended by a healthcare provider, they are often denied additional water breaks, prevented from sitting on a stool, and denied requests for heavy lifting accommodations. Furthermore, the PDA imposes a burden on pregnant workers who bring forth claims. Pregnant workers not only have to prove discrimination, but also have to worry about the high costs of litigation. As our report Long Overdue has shown, two thirds of pregnancy discrimination claims brought by pregnant workers in need of accommodations still fail.
One critical solution to create workplaces where pregnant workers do not have to compromise their health for economic stability is the passage of a federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). The PWFA would prevent pregnant workers from enduring unhealthy workplace environments and allow them to request and receive reasonable accommodations without fear of losing their jobs so long as the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. The PWFA creates a win-win scenario for employees and employers, where both can avoid costly litigation, giving employers clear guidelines for pregnancy accommodations and employees can receive the accommodations they need to thrive at work.