Author Archives: womenslawproject

About womenslawproject

The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.

Let’s Leave Politics Behind for the Sake of Healthcare

By Kate Michelman and Carol E. Tracy

Pennsylvania is facing a 1.3 billion deficit and the annual state budget is due June 30. The obvious solution is to expand Medicaid, but some Pennsylvania legislators won’t consider it.

When Governor Corbett rejected expanding Medicaid as designed under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), the state gave up millions of dollars in federal funds that are still available, ready to be disbursed. By expanding Medicaid, even temporarily, Pennsylvania lawmakers could immediately draw down $600 million dollars for the 2014-15 budget – $500 million more than Governor Corbett’s Executive Budget – which would slash the 1.3 billion deficit considerably.

Of course, Medicaid expansion would also mean that the 600,000 Pennsylvanians left in the “coverage gap” without access to healthcare could actually see a doctor.

Refusing to expand Medicaid immediately in the face of a budget crisis not only means forgoing $500 million dollars in readily available revenue, but also maintaining an unacceptable status quo that means some of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians receive the least help.

Currently, because Pennsylvania didn’t expand Medicaid, the qualification cut-off for “traditional” Medicaid for non-disabled parents is 38% of the federal poverty level, or about $9,000 a year for a family of four.

Meanwhile, the ACA provides families of four earning between $24,000 and $95,500 a year with tax subsidies to assist them with purchasing a private insurance plan through the online marketplace. Families with incomes between $9,000 and $24,000 are left uninsured.

Refusing to expand Medicaid as intended under the ACA has created a bizarre system where a mother of two children who earns $10,000 a year does not qualify for subsidized coverage, while a childless single person earning $44,000 a year does.

Healthy mothers mean healthy families. Women’s lack of access to healthcare contributes to ailments that cause premature births, infant mortality and maternal mortality. With recent research showing that pregnant women and infants in Philadelphia suffer higher incidence of maternal and infant mortality than the rest of the country, we can’t afford to continue to play politics with health policy.

Health shouldn’t be determined by geography.

Every state touching Pennsylvania’s borders has expanded Medicaid. To be clear, the 600,000 working-poor Pennsylvanians in the coverage gap are stuck there simply because they live in Pennsylvania.

In addition to improving health and adding $500 million dollars in revenue, expanding Medicaid would create approximately 35,000 jobs.

State budget secretary Charles Zogby recently admitted that if the state attempts to balance the budget with only existing revenues, there would be no new funding for basic education, higher education or to reduce waiting lists for services for people with intellectual disabilities.

Governor Corbett has been fighting against the Affordable Care Act since he filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the law as attorney general back in 2010. How much longer and how much more is he willing to sacrifice to the game of partisan politics?

Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania need not disrupt the approval process for Healthy PA, the alternate plan Governor Corbett submitted for federal review. (Healthy PA proposes to use the federal funds earmarked for expansion to provide a new form of coverage to low-income Pennsylvanians while cutting and limiting current benefits.) Policy experts point to New Hampshire as an example of a state that temporarily expanded Medicaid while negotiating an alternate waiver.

The budget crisis is frightening, but it is at least forcing the Pennsylvania legislature to reveal what they value most. They can choose partisan gamesmanship over the financial health of the Commonwealth and literal health of 600,000 citizens, or they can improve the health of working men and women, create jobs, and lay claim to $500 million additional federal dollars while slashing the budget deficit.

It seems clear it’s time to choose responsible governance over petty politics and expand Medicaid in Pennsylvania.


About the Women’s Law Project and WomenVote PA:

The Women’s Law Project is a Pennsylvania-based non-profit women’s legal advocacy organization focused on high-impact research, litigation and advocacy. The Women’s Law Project has offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. For more information go to www.womenslawproject.org.

WomenVote PA is the non-partisan action arm of the Women’s Law Project. For more information go to www.womenvotepa.org.

Carol E. Tracy is Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project and co-chairs, with Kate Michelman, of WomenVote PA.

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Filed under Government, Health Care, Health insurance, Medicaid, Pennsylvania, Women's health, working mothers, Working poor, working women

Pennsylvania Should Adopt A Law to Protect Women in Midlife From Employment Discrimination Based on Caregiving Responsibilities

By Caroline Buck, WLP Law Intern and Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

Women moving into the workforce has been one of the most important economic trends in the last 30 years. In April, the Center for American Progress issued a report that detailed the substantial impact of working women on the economy.

One of the report’s key findings was that if women’s employment had remained at the same level it was in 1979, the 2012 gross domestic product would have been roughly 11 percent lower. “In today’s dollars, this translates to more than $1.7 trillion less in output—roughly equivalent to combined U.S. spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in 2012.”

The most dramatic increase in working women has been the influx of mothers into the workforce. In 1979, 27.3 percent of mothers worked outside of the home. In 2007, this number grew to 46 percent.

Since 2007, both the percentage of working mothers and the overall number of women working outside the home has dropped.

It’s bad news for both women and the economy.

Last week, the New York Times published a report digging into the dynamics and consequences of the trend of women, and particularly middle-aged women, dropping out of the workforce while at the peak of their earning potential.

There’s no single explanation for the drop, but caring for elderly parents is one reason for the statistically significant reduction of women in the workforce. In a recent article investigating the issue, the New York Times profiled Tracy Murphy. Formerly a non-profit agency manager, 54-year-old Tracy left her job to care for her sick mother five years ago.  As we know, women are the primary caretakers of both parents and children. Though middle-aged women are dropping out of the workforce at a higher percentage than their younger counterparts, women in their 20s are also dropping out to focus on young children or to return to school.

Another factor is that the edge of the recession cut into government budgets, where statistically more women than men earn a paycheck. Almost half of the government jobs lost between 2008 and April of this year were in education – a job still overwhelming female – and illustrative of the ongoing job segregation that depresses women’s wages and opportunities.

From the New York Times:

“It’s a disaster for the women concerned,” said Ian Shepherdson, an independent economist, “but it’s also bad news for the economy because they are not contributing to growth and their skills are eroding through extended inactivity.”

With parents living longer and having children later, the report explains that women are pinned between caring for parents and children themselves to “save money,” and losing earnings and benefits that ideally would be incrementally increasing over the years.

Then, when they try to return to work, they find themselves pinned between being too young to retire and too old to be competitive. In addition, they are often discriminated against in hiring processes and passed over for promotions based on the assumption that they will be less committed to their jobs as a result of their caretaking responsibilities.

So what can we do?

There are certainly cultural factors at play: Women account for two-thirds of caretakers. Daughters are so much more likely to be tapped to care for elderly parents that studies of a recent report on the phenomenon commented, “it’s almost like being back at the turn of the century.”

Policies that acknowledge the shifting configurations of family, the labor market and the economy, as well as legislation that protects caregivers against employment discrimination, could help.

In Pennsylvania, 1.39 million people – primarily women – serve as informal caregivers for adults requiring long-term care at any given time. Additionally, three-quarters of adults requiring long-term care rely exclusively on family members to provide the daily assistance they need. Some states and localities have adopted laws to expressly prohibit employment discrimination based on caregiving responsibilities.  Pennsylvania has not yet done so.

On June 5, Tara Pfeifer, Staff Attorney for the Women’s Law Project, presented testimony before the Pennsylvania House Labor Committee in support of a state bill that would provide some necessary protections.

H.B. 2271, if passed, would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to prohibit discrimination based on “familial status” in the employment context. Although this is an important step that would provide much needed protections for working parents with caregiving responsibilities, the current bill does not provide legal protections to those who are caring for adults that require long-term assistance. As a result, other legislation is needed to fill this gap.

The economic and social impact of caretaking responsibilities on women’s workforce participation is clear, and the potential for discrimination in the employment context because of these responsibilities looms large. Yet until further legislative action is taken, those caring for other adults will remain vulnerable.

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Filed under Caretaking, familial status, PA Law, PA Legislature, working women

Philadelphia City Council Considers Bill to Support Nursing Mothers in the Workplace

By Freya Riedlin, Intern, Women’s Law Project

“I would assume that if men could bear children, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.” – Councilman Kenney

CityCouncil

These days, it is common knowledge that breastfeeding provides both infants and mothers with a range of invaluable health benefits. For example, breast milk reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and reduces the frequency of gastrointestinal infections in babies. For mothers, breastfeeding is associated with a reduction in the incidence of breast and ovarian cancer.

Because of these health benefits, the World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life. But many mothers return to the workplace before their child reaches six months of age. Consequently, working mothers who breastfeed must express milk in the course of their workday to maintain a sufficient supply of breast milk for their infants. Despite this need, many employers still do not provide breastfeeding mothers the time and space necessary to pump breast milk.

Last week, Amal Bass, Staff Attorney at the Women’s Law Project, presented testimony to the Law and Government Committee of Philadelphia City Council in support of a bill that would change just that.

Alongside fellow advocates and experts Dr. Esther Chung, Professor of Pediatrics at Jefferson Medical College; Rue Landau, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations; Katja Pigur, Director of Clinical and Breastfeeding Services of the Maternity Care Coalition; and Bonnie Higgins-Esplund, R.N., of the Pennsylvania Breastfeeding Coalition, the Women’s Law Project was proud to support Bill No. 130922. This proposed City Ordinance, introduced by Councilman David Oh, would amend the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance to clarify that it is a form of sex discrimination for an employer to fail to accommodate a nursing mother’s need to express breast milk at work.

The Women’s Law Project hears from women, both in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania, whose employers have denied them sufficient break time or a private space to express milk. These women face an impossible choice: to give in to the unreasonable demands of their employers, or disregard the medical advice they receive from their children’s doctors.

For some of these nursing mothers, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has already provided protection against these practices. The Break Time for Nursing Mothers provision in the ACA requires employers to provide employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime provision with reasonable unpaid break time and a private, sanitary space (other than a bathroom) for expressing breast milk. For employers with fewer than 50 employees, an exception may apply if doing so would constitute an “undue hardship.”

However, women who are exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act are currently not covered by the protections of the Break Time for Nursing Mothers provision. With Bill No. 130922, the Philadelphia City Council is attempting to fill that gap. By eliminating the distinction between exempt and nonexempt employees for the purposes of nursing mothers who need to express breast milk in the workplace, the bill would cover all employees – a vital step in ensuring the health of nursing mothers and their children.

With this law, women would not have to choose between working and providing their children with the benefits of breast milk – and it would bring us one step closer, as Ms. Pigur put it, to making Philadelphia the “City of Motherly Love.”

Read the full transcript here.

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Filed under Nursing Mothers, Philadelphia City Council, working mothers

“I should not have had to sue my employer to have a healthy pregnancy or keep breastfeeding”

Guest Blogger: Bobbi Bockoras

As a mother of three children, working in the manufacturing industry, I am truly in the minority: I’m one of 30 women in our facility and the only one with small children. Still, I hardly thought that in this day and age I would have to fight just to have a healthy pregnancy or continue breastfeeding after returning to work.

I found out the hard way that I was wrong.

In the fall of 2012 I found myself pregnant. I work for a glass bottle making company, and my job requires me to enter confined spaces, make major adjustments on large machinery, do lots of standing and lifting, and endure extreme heat during the summer time.

Late into my pregnancy, I became too big to do some of what my job required, and my doctor gave me some work restrictions in order to protect myself and my pregnancy. I asked my supervisor numerous times about being moved to a light duty job, but each time I asked, my request was denied. Not wanting to cause waves, and feeling that continuing to ask for accommodations would be a waste of breath, I accepted a voluntary lay off, which forced me to give up my FMLA bonding time with my soon-to-be baby daughter. I was not aware of the rights that could have protected me during this time and allowed me to continue working.

I gave birth to a beautiful little girl last spring, and I told my supervisors that I had planned on breastfeeding and would need breaks and a place to pump when I returned to work. While I was off, I took it upon myself to learn the laws associated with breastfeeding because I knew that my company had never had to accommodate a breast feeding woman at my facility. I went as far as printing out a copy of the “Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers” provision of the Affordable Care Act to give to my Human Resources office.

Nonetheless, when I returned to work, the company did not provide the proper accommodations that nursing mothers are entitled to—instead assigning me to places that were filthy, hot, and unsanitary or places where my coworkers were constantly trying to barge in or.

This led to harassment and difficulties that no new mother should have to face. My coworkers kept tampering with the door to the room, putting filthy grease on the door handle, and when I complained, I was placed back onto a rotating shift—where my hours shifted every week, including an overnight shift.

The stress and the constantly changing shifts caused my milk supply to drop. I went from pumping more than enough milk for my baby during the work day to barely getting enough for one feeding. She refused to nurse, and it became extremely frustrating for both of us. This should have been a time of snuggles, smiles, and happiness—of joy in breastfeeding and pride in myself for being able to raise a family and work at the same time. Instead, I faced harassment, retaliation, and depression. I felt emotionally and physically drained.

Finally, I took the initiative and contacted people who could advocate on my behalf. It was only after I threatened to sue that the company cleaned up the room and returned me to working regular daytime hours, and even then, I continued to face harassment—the lock to the room was tampered with twice more.

Just when I thought nothing could make my situation even harder, I found myself pregnant again. My mind raced a million miles an hour—in the middle of a lawsuit with my employer due to the situation over breastfeeding, I dreaded having to ask for further accommodations. I could not afford to be laid off again.

Luckily, this time, I was armed with the knowledge that the law allows me to continue to work, even with restrictions. Because I took the time to educate myself, the company knew they had to do the right thing, and they gave me a modified work assignment. I worked right up until I gave birth.

I should not have had to take the drastic step to sue my employer simply to have a safe pregnancy, equality as a woman, and the right to breastfeed even after returning to work. I faced a lot of backlash and grief when my lawsuit went public. But I made the bold decision to take a stand as a working mom so others wouldn’t be faced with having to fight like I did for something so simple. I take pride in knowing that I am doing something that will eventually make a difference, and I want my daughters to know that I love them enough to stand up for their rights. Educating yourself on your rights is something all women need to do, because no one is going to do it for you. Sometimes a little bit of knowledge and a whole lot of love can go a long way.

Bobbi Bockoras is represented by the ACLU, The Women’s Law Project, and Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP, which is working on the case pro bono. You can learn more about her case here.

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Filed under Employment, Pregnancy, pregnant workers fairness, working mothers

Long Road Since “Roe”

Kate Michelman Book Launch

Kate Michelman, President Emeritus, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Co-Chair, WomenVote PA

For me and millions of other women, inequality before the law has been the story of our lives. Most recently, advocates on both sides of the equal-pay issue seem to forget that personal stories are more compelling than statistics. They also ignore the fact that equal pay will not be resolved until we confront other issues inextricably linked with it.

My story begins in 1969, when my husband abruptly left my three very young daughters and me, stranding us without financial support. A few weeks later, I discovered I was pregnant. I knew it was impossible to give a new baby what it deserved while also giving my daughters what they needed. I made the difficult decision to have an abortion.

Because state law radically restricted access to the procedure, I had two choices: a back-alley abortion or humiliation before a hospital review board to obtain permission for a “therapeutic abortion.” Ironically, in order to grant me permission to do what was best for me and my daughters, the board would have to diagnose me as emotionally unfit to be a parent. To top it off, I also was required to get written permission from the husband who deserted us.

This situation changed everything for me and fast. I had a college degree, but suddenly I had no car, no income, and few alternatives. To keep our family going, I was forced onto welfare and relied on food stamps to keep food on the table. In the blink of an eye, my aspirations for achieving a comfortable middle-class life for my family were shattered.

That experience sparked a lifetime of activism that eventually took me to the front ranks of the national pro-choice movement, driven by a powerful desire to give women real choices to control their lives, choices denied to women of my generation. It also awakened in me a clear sense of the centrality of reproductive freedom as an indispensable human right – a right that underpins every woman’s ability to live in dignity, to enjoy full and equal citizenship, and to pursue a healthy and fulfilling life. This principle became a powerful and defining force for me and guided my professional work over my lifetime.

What most do not appreciate – even today – is that if women are not allowed to control something as fundamental as when they will and will not bear children, there is little hope that they will have an equal chance in the workforce or at the pay window. Demanding “equal pay” may seem less controversial than abortion, but it will never be a reality for most women without taking on the more daunting issue of abortion rights.

I have traveled a great distance since those wrenching days in 1969, and America has as well. The choice denied me has been recognized as every woman’s constitutional right, a right most Americans still support.

Sadly, dark forces have once again gathered upon the political horizons. Politicians, the courts, and an emboldened antichoice movement threaten the fragile state of women’s reproductive freedom in a way that feels eerily similar to those days in 1969. Is it possible that the arc of history could be bent into a circle so that, for many women, the journey will return them to that interrogation room, the back alley, or forced childbearing?

Two generations have grown up since Roe; although they have lived with the reproductive rights we won, they were not shaped by the struggle to win them. They support the right but increasingly lack the active commitment necessary to protect it against such determined opponents. As a result, the force defending the right of reproductive freedom is thin and fragile.

What can we do? First, recognize that the gains made in the past are elusive. Changes in the political power structure can empower anti-choice forces and change laws that affect the health and lives of all women, especially those most vulnerable.

Second, every woman or person who counts on a woman can get smart about issues and commit to some type of activity – call your elected officials and head to the polls for every election, not just the presidential ones.

Third, call for every single policy promoted by legislatures – whether federal or state – to include an analysis on how the policy would affect the lives of women. This approach would have great consequences given that the status of women has an enormous impact on society’s health and promise of a decent life.

Forty-five years ago, I was alone in a society that placed little value on my dignity, my freedom, my children, and my choice. Here we are, and here we have been. This is once again our moment and our responsibility. Our freedom belongs to us; it is our right, and it is our responsibility to protect it; and we have the power to do so. If we embrace this responsibility, a society that fully values women, supports children, and protects the freedoms that define America awaits.

First published in: http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/20140423_Long_road_since__Roe_.html

 

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Family Planning, Reproductive Rights, Women's health, Women's Law Project, women's rights, WomenVote PA

Women’s Law Project Files Title IX Complaints Against Pennsylvania State System Universities

On April 17th, the Women’s Law Project filed complaints with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education against nine members of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PSSHE), asking OCR to address the historical and ongoing failure of these universities to provide equal athletic opportunity to their female students. The nine universities are Bloomsburg, Cheyney, Clarion, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, and Shippensburg.

In a letter to counsel for PSSHE, Terry Fromson, managing attorney of the Women’s Law Project wrote:

“There is no excuse for the athletic disparities at these PSSHE member universities. Despite the fact that Title IX has obligated them to achieve gender equality for more than four decades, these universities have not undertaken genuine efforts to increase opportunities for or satisfy the athletic interests of their female students. It is time for PSSHE as a whole to undertake appropriate and ongoing measures to effectively and promptly address the inequities in their athletic programs.” Fromson added.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination by federally funded educational programs, requires schools to provide equal athletic opportunity, financial assistance, and recruiting support. To meet Title IX’s equal athletic opportunity requirement, a university must demonstrate that it meets one of three tests: (1) providing women with athletic opportunities in substantial proportion to their full-time undergraduate enrollment; (2) demonstrating a history and continuing practice of increasing athletic opportunities for women; or (3) effectively accommodating the athletic interests and abilities of women. Publicly available information strongly suggests that these universities are unlikely to satisfy any of these tests.

“Each of these universities has failed to provide athletic opportunities to their female students in proportion to the percentage of undergraduate women enrolled in the university. The disparities over the past ten years average between seven and almost 15 percent,” commented Sue Frietsche, senior staff attorney for the Women’s Law Project, who noted that collectively, the nine schools are missing over 900 athletic opportunities for women. “With OCR involvement and State System cooperation, this injustice can at last be corrected,” Frietsche added.

 

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Pennsylvania, Sports, Title IX, Women's Law Project

Court Enters Consent Decree So Pennsylvania Girls Can Wrestle

The Women’s Law Project and Flaster/Greenberg P.C. announce the successful resolution of a lawsuit on behalf of a Pennsylvania seventh-grade female student who was denied the opportunity to participate in the Line Mountain School District’s all-male wrestling program, in violation of her constitutional rights.

The lawsuit was filed in October 2013 in federal court and alleged that the district’s all-male wrestling program discriminated against girls on the basis of sex in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution. In January 2014, Flaster/Greenberg lawyer Abbe F. Fletman and Women’s Law Project attorney Terry L. Fromson were successful in obtaining a preliminary injunction requiring the school district to allow seventh-grader Audriana Beattie to join the all-male wrestling program for the duration of the lawsuit.

The Court has now approved a consent decree entered into by the parties that will allow Ms. Beattie to remain on the previously all-male wrestling team and other young women who wrestle competitively may join the team.

The school district has also rescinded its policy that kept girls off boys’ teams and will not adopt any policy in the future that will unlawfully deny athletic opportunity on the basis of sex.

“Wrestling is one of the fastest growing sports for young women; the school district’s agreement to resolve this action both brings the school into compliance with the law and addresses girls’ athletic interests,” said Fromson of the Women’s Law Project. “Audriana has been a competitive wrestler for more than four years, and we are pleased that she will be able to continue competing at Line Mountain,” said Fletman of Flaster/Greenberg. Because of this action, Audriana has been able to wrestle with the boys’ team, where she achieved a 6 win/13 loss record this season, while also preparing for the Pennsylvania Girls State Wrestling Championships, where she came in first in her weight class in Middle School competition.

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Title IX

Women’s Law Project Calls for UPMC to Stop Its Challenge to Equal Employment Opportunity Regulations

By Tara R. Pfeifer, WLP Staff Attorney 

Make sure your voice is heard on this issue, please sign this petition.

On February 5, 2014, Susan Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney at the Women’s Law Project (WLP), spoke at a press conference at Pittsburgh City Council and called on the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) to put an end to its legal challenge to equal employment opportunity regulations.  The WLP joined a number of community leaders and civil rights organizations – including the SEIU, members of Pittsburgh City Council, NAACP Pittsburgh Branch, Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network
Service, and Pennsylvania NOW – in taking a stand against UPMC’s efforts to dismantle our country’s affirmative action program for federal contractors.

The issue arose in 2004, when federal auditors sought to review affirmative action plans and inspect personnel records at three UPMC locations (only one of which is still open).  UPMC initiated a legal challenge to the government’s request, taking the position that auditors from the Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, or OFCCP, had no cause to check the personnel records of three hospitals for compliance with affirmative action rules that apply to federal contractors and subcontractors.  UPMC lost its battles at the lower court levels, but is presently asking the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to reverse those lower court rulings.

Before our country had fair employment rules and anti-discrimination regulations, women and minorities were completely locked out of entire occupations, and to this day sex and race discrimination persist, including in the health care sector.  UPMC’s troubling attempt to eviscerate a key component of our nation’s fair employment rules takes us back to the 1950s.  As we learn more about the poison of race and sex discrimination, we are learning that if you care about patient safety, you must care about having a diverse workforce. In particular, in the health care field, workforce diversity is associated with reduced health care disparities and better patient care.  We ask UPMC to stop trying to weaken our nation’s promise of equal opportunity in the workplace and stop trying to threaten the gains that women and minorities have made over the past fifty years.

To make sure your voice is heard on this issue, please sign this petition.

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Filed under Allegheny County, Economic Justice, Employment, Equality, Pittsburgh

Working Mom Scores Preliminary Victory in Breast Pumping at Work Case

By Tara R. Pfeifer,  WLP Staff Attorney

Plaintiff, Bobbi Bockoras, won the first battle in a lawsuit against her employer, Saint-Gobain Containers, Inc. (d/b/a Verallia North America), who she alleges discriminated and retaliated against her for asserting her right to pump breast milk at work.  Ms. Bockoras is represented by the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, and the Women’s Law Project.  On Monday, February 3, 2014, following oral argument on the employer’s motion to dismiss Ms. Bockoras’ Complaint, the Honorable Mark R. Hornak of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled from the bench and denied the employer’s motion.  In her Complaint, Ms. Bockoras alleges that she repeatedly attempted to secure a private and sanitary place to express breast milk after her return to work after giving birth to her child and then faced harassment from co-workers regarding this necessary accommodation.  Ms. Bockoras further alleges that when she complained to her employer about its failure to provide a suitable place to express breast milk and the co-workers’ harassment, the employer retaliated against her by moving her from a day shift to a rotating shift, which severely disrupted her ability to care for, and to breastfeed, her infant child, and by disregarding the harassment. As a result of the Court’s denial of the employer’s motion to dismiss, Ms. Bockoras’ case will move forward.

Congratulations to Bobbi Bockoras for her fearless advocacy on behalf of working mothers!

 

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Filed under Employment, pregnant workers fairness, Women's Law Project, working mothers, working women

Philadelphia Enacts Pregnancy Discrimination Law

By Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney

In Philadelphia, it is now unlawful for an employer to deny a pregnant employee access to water, bathroom breaks, or any other reasonable accommodation that does not present an undue hardship to the employer.

On January 20, 2014, Mayor Nutter signed into law an amendment to the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance that makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail to provide reasonable accommodations to employees for needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. It is enforced by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.

The bill was sponsored by Councilmembers Greenlee, Reynolds Brown, and Bass. The Women’s Law Project provided testimony in support of this bill in City Council on November 22, 2013.

This amendment to the Fair Practices Ordinance fills gaps in the protection provided by the current federal and state laws, such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). The PDA and the PHRA prohibit employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, but many courts have narrowed the protections of these laws by permitting employers to provide accommodations only to workers with limitations arising from on-the-job injuries and by permitting employers to deny all requests for accommodations (when those requests do not arise from ADA-covered disabilities). Meanwhile, the ADA, as amended in 2008 to expand the definition of “disability” to include less severe and temporary impairments, may prohibit employers from denying reasonable accommodations to some pregnant women, but courts have not yet interpreted how the 2008 amendments will apply to women in need of only minor accommodations related to healthy pregnancies.

These gaps in legal protection result in serious consequences for pregnant workers and their families. For example, women may be forced to continue to work under conditions that are hazardous to their health, to exhaust any available leave before the birth of their babies, and/or to leave their jobs. The denial of reasonable accommodations in the workplace can have long-term implications for these women, ultimately resulting in gaps in employment and reduced income throughout their working lives.

With the enactment of this new law, employees in Philadelphia now have a right to reasonable accommodations that will protect their health, the health of their pregnancies, and their economic security. This law gives them rights similar to what they would have in New Jersey, California, Hawaii, and several other states.

It’s time for the rest of Pennsylvania to catch up!

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Filed under Philadelphia City Council, Pregnancy, pregnant workers fairness, Reproductive Rights, Women's health, working mothers, working women