Pregnancy discrimination still rampant; new national protections urgently needed

The data are in: things have not gotten better for pregnant workers. The National Partnership for Women and Families has issued a new report showing that within a five-year period, from 2010 to 2015, no fewer than 31,000 women filed pregnancy discrimination complaints under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “Nearly four decades after we banned pregnancy discrimination in this country, it is shameful that women are still being fired, forced out of their jobs, and denied employment and promotion opportunities because they become pregnant,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership, which helped lead the coalition that won passage of the PDA some 38 years ago.
The report’s key findings show a widespread pattern of abuse, including:

  • Women in every industry report pregnancy discrimination, including the industries that employ the most workers overall and the industries with the highest share of female workers, such as health care, social assistance, and educational services. 
  • Women report pregnancy discrimination across races and ethnicities, but black women are most affected. More than 28 percent of pregnancy discrimination charges were filed by black women, yet they comprise only 14 percent of women in the workforce ages 16 to 54. 
  • Women in all 50 states and the District of Columbia filed charges of pregnancy discrimination during the period analyzed. The 10 jurisdictions with the highest share of charges relative to the number of women in the workforce span every region of the country.
  • Pregnant women report they were denied reasonable workplace accommodations they needed to continue working, such as taking more bathroom breaks or carrying a water bottle. From October 2014 to September 2015 alone, more than 650 charges of this type of discrimination were filed.

Advocates for pregnant workers, including the National Partnership, say that the only way to curb such abuses by employers is to pass a new national law with updated protections and stronger enforcement provisions. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which is currently before Congress, would make clear that employers must provide the same workplace protections for women with pregnancy-related limitations as they do for workers with similar limitations, including minor job modifications.