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5 Apr 2015

Supreme Court stands up for pregnant workers– now we must take the next step

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April 5, 2015 Category: Commentary Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  Shutterstock/ Diego Cervo

By State Rep. Mark B. Cohen

On Wednesday, March 25, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Peggy Young, who sued the United Parcel Service for refusing to make workplace accommodations due to her pregnancy-related lifting restriction. UPS claimed that Young was not discriminated against because she was treated the same as any other worker, and that she did not qualify for workplace accommodations because she did not fit into any of the categories for which it made accommodations.

The Supreme Court ruling means that Young can now proceed with her discrimination lawsuit against UPS, which was originally filed in 2008. Lower courts had previously dismissed her suit.

This was a very important breakthrough for women, but the decision also demonstrates that state laws still are needed to protect pregnant workers from discrimination.

While the decision was a win for Young, who was discriminated against at work because of her pregnancy, it does not solve the problem for all pregnant women. Other pregnant workers may still face uncertainty about their rights in their own workplaces or not know what their employers’ own accommodation policies are. Legislation I have introduced, which would establish the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, would end that uncertainty.

My legislation, introduced as H.B. 704, would make it unlawful for a covered employer to refuse reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unless those accommodations would prove an undue hardship on the entity’s operations.

Our senior U.S. senator, Bob Casey, introduced legislation in Washington last term. His bill, also entitled the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, inspired my statewide version of the legislation. We can’t wait for Washington to give these essential rights to our mothers-to-be.

In the majority of cases, the accommodations pregnant women need are minor, such as permission to sit periodically, the right to carry a water bottle, extra restroom breaks or help lifting heavy objects.

In many instances, these accommodations are regularly extended to workers who may be suffering from some other injury or illness. In fact, the expansion of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employer accommodation in many situations. It is only fitting that pregnant women be given the same consideration; this ruling is a reminder to employers that pregnant workers are also due the same rights under ADA.

Pregnancy discrimination causes significant and long-term harm to women and their families well beyond pregnancy, to include the loss of health benefits, job seniority and wages. In 41 percent of families with children, women are the primary breadwinners.

Women deserve to know their employer’s official disability accommodation policies before the need arises. It is especially important that workers in smaller companies are aware of and understand the policies in place and how frequently requests for accommodation are either approved or denied. This can be done in a discreet, non-identifying manner, so as not to violate any HIPAA medical privacy rules.

We owe it to our pregnant workers so that they will not have to worry about their job security due to their pregnancy. The last thing any woman needs to worry about is if her pregnancy will cost her a job, her income and her medical insurance.

I am happy for the positive outcome in Young’s case, but we need to use the decision as a wake-up call to ensure that what happened to her does not happen to other pregnant workers in Pennsylvania. Most women can’t wait the eight years it took for the final resolution of a pregnancy dispute.

State Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, serves the 202nd Legislative District.

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