On this date in History ..... 1978:
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is approved, prohibiting
sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, amending Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964. Employers of 15 or more employees had to cover expenses for pregnancy-related conditions on the same basis as costs
for other medical conditions, and could no longer limit these benefits to
married persons only. With
more than 70% of women with children in the work force, pregnancy
discrimination is the fastest growing type of discrimination in the U.S., and
in 2006 represented approximately 6.5% of all discrimination claims filed.
There have been many laws covering women in the
workplace, going back as far as the 1908 case, Mueller v. Oregon, in which the
Court upheld a prior decision to limit women to a 10-hour workday under the
assumption that "performance of maternal functions” meant that women were
incapable of the same work as men, and legally justified sexual discrimination
in the workplace under the guise of protecting women’s health.
This ruling was confusing to some because just
three years earlier, the Supreme Court had ruled just the opposite in Lochner
v. New York in which the court invalidated a New York law that restricted a
baker’s day to just ten hours “to protect the health of the baker.” The Court opinion was the law was an attempt
to regulate employment terms and had nothing to do with health protection.
While Mueller did not overule Lochner, the Court
differentiated between the two cases on the basis of the difference between the
sexes, specifically citing that “the performance of maternal functions place
her at a disadvantage in the struggle for subsistence”.
Council for Oregon state had put together a large
brief that included hundreds of sources, including social authorities and their
opinions on the impact of women working.
It became the first case in which social science was used and changed
the direction of the Court and it’s decision.
Two cases in the 1970s had a direct impact on
getting the Pregnancy Discrimination Act passed: Once was General Electric v. Gilbert
and the other was Geduldig v. Aiello.
Geduldig ruled that denying pregnant women medical
benefits in California was not discriminatory. The state justified its stance by
pointing out that while conceeding only women can become pregnant, they
actually divided their employees into group of “pregnant women” and “non-pregnant
persons”. Since the second group
included men and women, they felt they therefore were not discriminating against
The courts agreed.
Congress reacted and passed the Pregnancy Discrimination