Note to readers: Today we are honored to have as a guest-blogger Jake Aryeh Marcus, a public interest lawyer who works to defend the rights of those who face discrimination due to their gender or sexual orientation. She is the founder and director of Survivors as Mothers, a non-profit advocacy group for mothers who were themselves abused as children, and writes for Mothering magazine. These are her words:
This past year marked the thirtieth anniversary of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), but there may be little reason to party. Pregnancy discrimination claims are dramatically increasing – by 65% between 1992 and 2007, according to a report by the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF),1 despite the number of women in the work force having increased only slightly during the same period. While increased filing of claims does not necessarily represent an increase in discrimination incidents, the NPWF report highlights significant flaws in the official gathering of data on pregnancy-related discrimination.
Passed by Congress in 1978, the PDA amended the definition of “sex discrimination” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include a prohibition against workplace discrimination "on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions." The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 5,587 charges of pregnancy-based discrimination and recovered thirty million dollars in damages for claimants in 2007 alone.2 However, this could represent only a fraction of actual pregnancy-related discrimination as PDA complaints must be filled with the EEOC within 180 days of the discrimination and EEOC statistics do not include claims filed only under state employment discrimination laws.
The NPWF report discloses another disturbing trend: PDA claims by women of color have increased at a higher rate than for white women - 76% between 1996 and 2005 with particularly large increases among Hispanic women (103%) and American Indian/Alaska Native women (109%). Unfortunately there was also a 72% increase in claims for which “other” was designated as the race or ethnicity of the claimant, leaving a large number of claims for which this information is simply unknown. Other factors may have increased claims such as the opening in 2001 of the first EEOC office in Puerto Rico which obviously contributed to the 300% jump in PDA claims there in 2005.
The NPWF suggests changes in the EEOC complaint process to enhance the quality of the data collected by the EEOC and a nationwide enforcement effort employing federal and state resources to decrease pregnancy discrimination. Whether the increase in claims accurately represents pregnancy-related employment discrimination is unknown but without a more concerted effort to collect and thoroughly analyze accurate information concerning workplace pregnancy discrimination, the PDA cannot realize its full potential to protect women.
1 The Pregnancy Discrimination Act: Where We Stand 30 Year Later, National Partnership for Women and Families, October 2008. http://www.nationalpartnership.org/site/DocServer/Pregnancy_Discrimination_Act_-_Where_We_Stand_30_Years_L.pdf?docID=4281 (last accessed November 6, 2008)