Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October 31: Pregnancy Discrimination Act

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 women. 

The courts agreed. 

Women revolted. 

Congress reacted and passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

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