December 2, 2014 — Experiences like those of Peggy Young, the plaintiff in a pregnancy discrimination case before the Supreme Court this week, are "increasingly typical" for U.S. women, attorney and author Gillian Thomas writes in an opinion piece for Slate's "DoubleX".
"Women now constitute close to half the workforce, and three-quarters of them will be pregnant at least once during their working lives," according to Thomas, who notes that a Census Bureau study found that "a whopping 82 percent of women who gave birth between 2006 and 2008 work[ed] into their final month of pregnancy."
However, for some women "pregnancy can be in direct conflict with their ability to work" because of medical concerns ranging from common pregnancy-related conditions like "back pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, and chronic fatigue" to more serious complications like pre-eclampsia and placenta previa, Thomas continues. "Simply put, in order to continue earning a paycheck while pregnant, many women will need their employers to make some adjustments," she argues. Unfortunately, a 2013 report by the National Women's Law Center and A Better Balance found that "even seemingly easy fixes, like allowing a woman to carry a water bottle or to sit down periodically, have been denied [by employers] time and again," Thomas continues. Further, she adds, "a recent study by the National Partnership for Women & Families estimates that more than 250,000 women a year have their accommodation requests denied," meaning that many women are left "with the Hobson's choice of risking their pregnancies or losing their jobs."
Thomas writes, "[F]or an expectant mother to lose a paycheck just as she's about to have another mouth to feed is a devastating outcome."
Further Action Needed
Thomas calls for additional congressional action to ensure reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, given several courts' "patently wrong" interpretation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PL 95-555).
While Thomas hopes that the Supreme Court will side with Young, she is not optimistic based on the high court's recent history on issues regarding "women, pregnancy, and employment rights." However, she adds, "If the [Supreme Court] upholds the 4th Circuit's narrow, wrongheaded reading of the PDA" in Young case's, "the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act [S 942, HR 1975] might finally get traction" in Congress. Thomas concludes, "Without some collective commitment to making the temporary accommodations necessary for [pregnant] women to continue working safely, then we're committing to a future full of Peggy Youngs -- women whose pregnancies cost them their paychecks" (Thomas, "DoubleX," Slate, 12/1).