Pregnancy & Family Responsibilities Discrimination

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Discrimination, Paid Leave, and Work-Life Balance

As more and more families depend on women’s income – and an increasing number of women are their family’s primary breadwinner – the ability to maintain employment before, during, and after pregnancy has become imperative. Though pregnancy and child-care demands affect  women workers at all levels, for many low-wage working women the needs – and challenges – are especially severe.


Throughout America, families have increasingly come to rely on income earned by women for their economic survival. Employment opportunity, equity, non-discrimination, and the availability of affordable child care and paid leave are more important than ever, but they remain elusive for low-wage workers, a majority of whom are women.

Pregnancy Discrimination

Balancing pregnancy and employment responsibilities is a reality for the vast majority of these women as 85% of women become pregnant at some point during their working lives. Yet, pregnancy remains a serious obstacle to women’s ability to maintain and succeed in employment, particularly in low-wage jobs.

Currently, pregnancy discrimination remains common, employer accommodations for pregnant workers are altogether absent or significantly limited, and women increasingly want or need to work through pregnancy.  Despite changing gender roles, the majority of family caregivers in the United States today are still women. While women at all socioeconomic levels are hard-pressed to balance work and pregnancy, the challenge is particularly onerous for women in low-wage jobs, most of whom do not have paid or unpaid leave, flexible hours, or health benefits.

In the 30 years since the passage Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, pregnancy discrimination is on the rise.  Women with less education and low wages leave their jobs or are fired after the birth of their first child at a much higher rate than other workers.  Legal protections remain woefully inadequate, as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is extremely limited in the scope of protections that it provides.

Legal Momentum is working to expand legal protections for pregnant women under current law by focusing on two theories of legal protection for pregnant women at work:

  • Expanding the availability of “light duty” accommodations for pregnant women in physically demanding jobs: Many large employers (or governmental entities) whose employees work in physically demanding jobs (including police officers, firefighters, and women in the construction trades) provide some form of accommodations for workers who become injured.  Increasingly, employers are attempting to limit their costs by providing accommodations only to those employees who have been injured on the job.  Employers often deny such accommodations to pregnant women, claiming that pregnancy is more akin to an off the job injury or disability.  Legal Momentum is at the forefront of the fight to demonstrate that this delineation is harmful to rights of pregnant women, and in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
  • Expanding accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 2008 (ADAAA) for pregnant women suffering from pregnancy related medical complications: Legal Momentum is developing new theories of legal protection under the recently enacted ADAAA which went into effect in January 2009.  While not specifically addressing pregnancy, the ADAAA specifically broadened its coverage of those experiencing physical disabilities. Legal Momentum is on the forefront of efforts to advance the idea that women facing pregnancy-related impairments should be protected under this law.

Paid Leave

Because women remain the primary caregivers for their families and children, and single women are much more likely to be custodial parents than single men, paid leave is a critical issue for women workers. The industries which employ the most women, however, such as retail, hospitality, and other minimum- and low-wage jobs, are the least likely to provide workers with paid sick leave, vacation, or medical benefits.  This commonly creates situations wherein women are forced to choose between taking care of a sick child, or themselves, or sacrificing a day’s worth of wages.  Legal Momentum advocates with partner organizations to make paid family and medical leave available for all working families.

Learn more about Legal Momentum's litigation related to the rights of pregnant women in our Legal Cases Database. If you believe you have a claim that raises significant issues in this area, please contact us at 212.925.6635.