Tag Archives: Pregnancy

Pennsylvania is Failing Women

By Kate Michelman and Sue Frietsche

So much for Pennsylvania as the birthplace of freedom and democracy. A report last month from the Center for American Progress offered some alarming statistics about the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the way   it treats the six million or so women who live here, assigning us a “C-” grade, and ranking our state 28th of the 50 states on women’s rights.

In fact, a quote from the report reads, “Pennsylvania stands out as one of the states that is among the worst in the nation for women. Across 36 factors of economic security, leadership, and health, Pennsylvania ranks 28th in the nation for how women are faring. This illustrates the long path ahead before women in Pennsylvania can get a fair shot at achieving economic security, reaching success, and living a healthy life.”

It goes from bad to worse in the report, whether it’s the fact that we scored a “D+” on economic factors for women (e.g., the 76 cents we still make to every dollar a man makes or the fact that 15% of us live in poverty), a “D” in leadership (our entire Congressional delegation contains one lone woman, and we hold less than 37% of the managerial positions in the state despite being 52% of the population), or a “C” in health (there is only one OB/GYN for approximately every 20,000 women in the state, we have the 12th highest infant mortality rate in the country, and our lawmakers are making it as difficult as possible for women to get reproductive health care).

It is beyond dispute that when the women of Pennsylvania do well, their families do well, their children thrive and communities prosper. That is reason enough for Pennsylvania to start climbing up from the bottom rungs of the 50 states.

But there is an even better reason, and simply put, it’s that Pennsylvania women deserve an equal shot at a good life. They deserve a state where they are treated equally at home, at work, and at school. They deserve a seat in the boardroom and at the table of government. They deserve a chance to live and work safely, with dignity – even when they’re pregnant or raising a family. They deserve the basic economic security essential to getting and staying healthy. They deserve the freedom to decide whether or not to have children in accordance with their beliefs, not under the boot of other people’s politics or religion.

So what can you do? Read the report, get motivated and do something about it. Get involved by getting smart about who you’re electing (or not electing) into office. Become an educated, vocal participant in exercising your civic duty, whether it’s visiting your legislators, writing letters to the editor, helping out at the polls – whatever inspires your civic passion. Above all, make your voice heard by voting, because Pennsylvania badly needs you in order to get back on the right track for our state’s women.

We’ve made great strides in the last 50 years, but a report like this shows we have miles to go. The women and men of Pennsylvania need to unite to effect real change for women, whether it is access to healthcare, economic security, or freedom from violence. And we need to pick up the pace while we’re at it. It’s simply taking too long to reach a place of true equality.

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Kate Michelman is co-chair of WomenVote PA, an organization that educates, engages, and mobilizes Pennsylvanians to make equality a reality for women. She is also president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America and author of “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose.”

Sue Frietsche is a senior staff attorney in the Western Pennsylvania office of the Women’s Law Project.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Economic Justice, economic security, Family Violence, Health Care, Pennsylvania, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Violence Against Women, Voter turnout, women voting, Women's health, Women's Law Project, women's rights, WomenVote PA, working mothers, working women

Philadelphia Can Protect Pregnant Workers from Discrimination

By Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney

On October 3, 2013, Philadelphia City Councilmember Greenlee, Councilmember Reynolds Brown, and Councilmember Bass introduced legislation that, if passed, will protect pregnant women who work in Philadelphia from discrimination in the workplace. The legislation requires employers to provide women with reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

It often comes as a surprise to women that, under our current laws, their employers often do not have to grant their requests for minor job modifications, such as requests to sit in a chair at work or to have help lifting heavy boxes, which some women need as their pregnancies progress. When an employer denies these requests, the women who need these accommodations are (1) forced to continue working under conditions that place their health and the health of their pregnancies at risk, (2) forced to exhaust any leave that might be available to them (often leaving none for after the birth of the baby), and/or (3) forced to leave their job.

As a result, pregnant women and their families find themselves without income and without health insurance (if employer provided). Women who are pushed out of the workforce due to pregnancy lose pay in the short-term and are at risk for diminished income throughout their working lives.

Existing anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), and state laws like the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, prevent employers from treating pregnant women differently from non-pregnant employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. The 2008 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which require employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, may also provide protection for some pregnant women.

However, there are too many gaps in these laws. For example, courts have ruled that the PDA does not offer a pregnant employee legal protections unless she can identify a non-pregnant employee who works in the same role, has virtually the same limitations, and who received better treatment from the employer.  Many pregnant employees are unable to identify such a person, often because they do not know what kinds of accommodations their employers have granted to other employees or what needs those other employees have. Furthermore, some courts have allowed employers to refuse to accommodate pregnant employees even when they accommodate non-pregnant employees with similar limitations, if the source of that incapacity is work-related.

While some states and localities, most recently New York City, have laws that fill these gaps, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia do not.  For women who work in Philadelphia, the City Council bill would ensure that pregnant women who are able to work with reasonable accommodations can keep their jobs. Specifically, the bill would amend the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance to make it unlawful for an employer to:

Refuse to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee for needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition, provided (i) the employee requests such accommodations and (ii) such accommodations will not cause an undue hardship to the employer.

This is a familiar framework for employers and courts because it is similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act. If passed, this law would help pregnant women stay employed, promoting the health and well-being of women and their families, while imposing only a minimal and temporary burden on employers.

The Women’s Law Project hears from women across the Commonwealth, including in Philadelphia, who would benefit from a law that prohibits employers from denying reasonable requests for accommodations due to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition:*

  • Makayla, an employee at a garden center, needed help lifting heavy plants while pregnant. Her employer refused her request, and she had no choice but to leave her job.
  • Tina, a health aid at a nursing home, needed help lifting a resident from the scooter to the bed while pregnant. Her employer denied her request and forced her to exhaust her Family Medical Leave (which is up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave available to some employees of some employers) before the birth of her baby. Tina lost her job.
  • Jessica, a pharmacist’s assistant, needed to sit down occasionally at her workplace while pregnant. Chairs were available for customers, but the pharmacy did not permit the staff to use them. Jessica lost her job.

Most of the women who have contacted the Women’s Law Project with these experiences are having healthy pregnancies, but need minor accommodations in the workplace as their pregnancies progress. In many cases, they are the primary or sole breadwinner for their families, and so the loss of their jobs places their families at great risk of poverty.

Philadelphia should do more to help these families, and passing Bill No. 130687 is an important step.

If you live in Philadelphia, please contact your councilmember and tell them why this issue matters to you.

*Identifying information has been removed to protect confidentiality.

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Filed under Gender Discrimination, Philadelphia City Council, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnant workers fairness, Sex Discrimination, working women

Firing New Mother for Planning to Pump Breast Milk at Work Is Illegal

By Aly Mance, WLP Undergraduate Intern

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently sued Houston Funding II, Ltd. on behalf of new mother Dominica Venters, who was dismissed from her job following her maternity leave.  Venters disclosed to her manager that she would be preparing to return to work but would need a place to pump breast milk so that she could continue breastfeeding her newborn child.  She was met with silence and a firm refusal.  She was later informed that her position had been filled.  Venters and the EEOC alleged sex discrimination against the company for firing her.

A federal district court judge dismissed her case, reasoning that firing a woman because she is breastfeeding is not sex discrimination.  Yet, the clear language of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.”  The judge reasoned that lactation was not a “condition related to pregnancy and childbirth” because once Venters had her baby, “she was no longer pregnant and her pregnancy-related conditions ended.”

It is quite obvious that breastfeeding and pregnancy go hand-in-hand and that breastfeeding is a condition related to pregnancy.  Despite a multitude of public health justifications for breastfeeding, Venters’ case is not atypical.  Women who wish to return to paid work while continuing to breastfeed are often forced to make a choice between one or the other—their careers or what they feel is best for their baby’s health.  While some employers are flexible and understanding, and would have considered Venters’ request a minor one, many employers refuse to “deal with” employees who choose to breastfeed or try to force them out of the office and back into their homes, “where they belong.”

Recently, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the judgment dismissing Venters’ complaint, thereby reinstating her case, thanks in part to an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief submitted by the Texas Medical Association which explained the relationship between pregnancy and breastfeeding.  The court of appeals ruled that firing someone for breastfeeding is, in fact, a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the PDA.

Unfortunately, the Fifth Circuit’s decision is a departure from the overwhelming majority of court decisions regarding breastfeeding and the PDA. For breastfeeding to be protected under the PDA, it must be considered a “related medical condition” of pregnancy under the language of the Act. The majority of courts have inferred that the condition must be medically necessary. Breastfeeding is thought of as a childcare choice due to the availability of formula, thus is deemed not to be a necessary condition of pregnancy. This inference is not present in the text of the PDA, nor is it remotely logical.  Regardless of whether a woman chooses to breastfeed, she will still lactate. To combat this rationale, last year the district court in Colorado determined that if lactation is an inevitable consequence of pregnancy, then it is similar to any other bodily function. See Falk v. City of Glendale, No. 12-cv-00925-JLK, 2012 WL 2390556 (D. Colo. June 25, 2012). The court determined that because the woman in that case was previously allowed breaks to use the restroom, it was not discriminatory to deny her extra breaks to pump. Could this court really be suggesting that breastfeeding mothers must choose between using the restroom and pumping?

Women like Venters are the reason that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was enacted.  In a profit-driven world where male workers are assumed to be better workers because they don’t get pregnant, give birth, or breastfeed, women need a way to combat institutionalized sexism.  Women need a way to insure that they are being treated as equals to their male counterparts in the workplace.

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Filed under Employment, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnant workers fairness, Uncategorized, working mothers

Pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Bring the Workplace to the 21st Century

By Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney

Women are often surprised to learn that they do not have as many rights in the workplace as they expect to have in the 21st Century. More often than not, an employer does not have to grant a pregnant woman’s request for a minor job modification, such as a chair or help lifting heavy boxes, which some women need as their pregnancies progress. As a result, pregnant women who could have worked with a reasonable accommodation lose their jobs and find themselves without economic security and without health insurance at a time when access to health care is essential.

Existing anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), and similar state laws like the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, prevent employers from treating pregnant women differently from non-pregnant employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.  But these laws do not protect pregnant employees in nearly as many situations as they should.

For example, courts have ruled that the PDA does not offer a pregnant employee legal protections unless she can identify a non-pregnant employee (1) who works in the same role, (2) has virtually the same limitations, and (3) is treated better by the employer than the pregnant woman.  Many pregnant employees are unable to identify such a person, often because they simply do not know what kinds of accommodations their employers have granted to other employees or what limitations those other employees have. Furthermore, some courts have allowed employers to refuse to accommodate pregnant employees even when they accommodate non-pregnant employees with similar limitations, if those limitations are work-related.

While some states have laws that protect these pregnant employees better than the current federal law does, Pennsylvania does not.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would fill this gap in the law on a national level, ensuring that pregnant women who are able to work with reasonable accommodations can keep their jobs. S.942 was reintroduced on May 14, 2013 by Senators Bob Casey and Jeanne Shaheen and Representatives Jerrold Nadler, Carolyn Maloney, Jackie Speier, Susan Davis, and Marcia Fudge, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would:

  • Require employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees who have limitations on the job related to their pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition, unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer.
  • Prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who need an accommodation.
  • Prohibit employers from forcing a pregnant employee to accept an accommodation she does not want.

Prohibit employers from forcing a pregnant employee to take unpaid or paid leave if a reasonable accommodation is available.

If passed, this law would help pregnant women stay employed, promoting the health and well-being of mothers and their families, while imposing only a minimal and temporary burden on employers.

One woman who would have benefited from a law like this — a woman who lives in Pennsylvania and called the Women’s Law Project for help — worked at a garden center and needed help lifting heavy plants while pregnant.  Her employer refused her request, and she had no choice but to leave her job.

Women should not have to make a choice between having a healthy pregnancy and keeping their jobs. It’s time to change the law.

Please contact your Representative and Senator to tell them that they should support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

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Filed under Employment, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnant workers fairness, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Press Conference Tomorrow

Tomorrow, September 14, 2012, U.S. Senator for Pennsylvania, Bob Casey, will announce the introduction of a companion bill to the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 5647) at a press conference at 10:30 AM (in the large conference room at 2000 Hamilton Street, Philadelphia).  If you plan to attend the press conference, please RSVP to ecusack@maternitycarecoalition.org.

In the post below, the Women’s Law Project discusses the need for this legislation, which, if passed, would ensure that pregnant workers have the right to reasonable accommodations if pregnancy limits their ability to perform certain job functions.

Reposted from 5/8/2012:  The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Offers Hope for Women in the Workplace, If Congress Passes It

“Tina,” who is pregnant and works as a health aide in a nursing home, is told by her doctor that she should not lift more than 35 pounds.  Her job description requires lifting 40 pounds regularly, but lighter duty jobs, such as answering the phone and working at the reception desk, are available.  Nevertheless, her employer stops scheduling her for shifts and tells her she must take unpaid Family Medical Leave, which would run out before the delivery of her baby and leave her without the income she needs to pay the 50% of her medical insurance her employer does not cover.  Left with no choice, Tina loses her job.

“Jessica,” who is pregnant and works as a pharmacist’s assistant, needs to sit down occasionally throughout her day.  Chairs are available for customers, but the pharmacy does not permit the staff to use them.  As a result, Jessica loses her job.

For women like Tina and Jessica, whose stories are based on the experiences of real women who have called the Women’s Law Project, current anti-discrimination laws often do not go far enough.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), prevents an employer from treating a pregnant woman differently from how that employer treats non-pregnant employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.  Some courts, however, have limited the protections of this federal law by requiring pregnant employees to identify a non-pregnant employee who works in the same role and has almost identical limitations but is treated better by the employer in order to succeed with a lawsuit.  Some courts even permit employers to refuse to accommodate pregnant employees when they accommodate non-pregnant employees because pregnancy is not a work-related condition.  In short, despite the PDA, pregnant women are often treated differently from other employees with similar limitations.

Other laws do not provide better protections for pregnant women. Courts interpret the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) similarly to Title VII/PDA.  In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees, usually does not apply to women experiencing ordinary pregnancy.

A handful of states have laws that prevent employers from terminating women from employment or forcing them to take paid or unpaid leave when a reasonable accommodation is available, but Pennsylvania is not one of those states.  As a result of this gap in the law, many pregnant women in Pennsylvania, like Tina and Jessica, find themselves unemployed suddenly, without economic security and often without health insurance at a time when access to health care is crucial.

For Pennsylvania’s pregnant women and for women in many other states, the proposed federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would offer important workplace protections.  Introduced on May 8, 2012 by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and other representatives in the House, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would:

    • Require employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees who have limitations on the job related to their pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition, unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer.
    • Prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who need an accommodation.
    • Prohibit employers from forcing a pregnant employee to accept an accommodation she does not want.
    • Prohibit employers from forcing a pregnant employee to take unpaid or paid leave if a reasonable accommodation is available.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act, which has been in effect for over two decades.  Thus, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act employs a familiar framework that simply requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations that do not present an “undue burden.”  If passed, this law would help pregnant women stay employed and maintain their economic security and benefits, promoting the health of mothers and their families, while imposing only a minimal, temporary burden on employers.

Please contact your representative and tell them that they should support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.  To call your representative, dial 202-224-3121 and tell the operator the name of your representative.

For more information on this bill, take a look at the National Women’s Law Center’s Fact Sheet.

To learn more about the effects of sex bias and discrimination in the workplace on women’s health, see WLP’s report, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women.

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Filed under Gender Discrimination, Health Care, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Women's health

The Affordable Care Act Extends No-Cost Preventive Care to Women

Nikki Ditto, WLP Intern

Wednesday, August 1st  is an important day for women’s health. After this date, all new insurance plans must cover certain women’s preventive health services, including contraceptives, without co-pays or deductibles. This represents an essential change in access to health care for women. Women, who have long been subjected to denial of access to insurance coverage for essential health services are more likely than men to forgo needed health care due to cost.  The number of women who can access these benefits will continue to expand as older plans lose their “grandfathered” status and become subject to the ACA’s preventive health services requirements.  For now, many college and university students will benefit if they receive health insurance through their schools, as those plans usually begin their health plan years around the start of the school year.  Other insurance policies that are renewed with substantially different content (usually on January 1st) will also comply with the new law.

Women whose insurance plans fall under the new guidelines will now have access to a number of services that will “keep them healthier and…catch potentially serious conditions at an earlier, more treatable stage,” according to Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. This includes annual well-woman visits, as well as screening and counseling for HPV, HIV, and STIs. Insurance policies will also have to cover testing for gestational diabetes, breastfeeding support, and domestic violence screening and counseling. Perhaps most significantly, women will also have access to birth control and other forms of contraception without a co-pay, though exceptions have been made for religious institutions and self-funded plans. These services add to the no-cost coverage that has already been implemented for pap smears and mammograms.

The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 20.4 million women have been and will be affected by this expansion in coverage. A startling 52% of women “report delaying needed medical care because of cost,” a number that will be decreased under the ACA. The Women’s Law Project (WLP) explained in its report Through the Lens of EQUALITY: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women that “lack of access to the full range of women’s health care has many adverse health consequences.”  Many women are unable to afford contraceptives, which range from $15 to more than $1,000 up front depending on the methodThe contraceptive coverage rule will increase women’s access to these methods of contraception, which will help them plan pregnancies and address other health concerns, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, for which birth control pills are a common treatment.

Controversy continues over the provision requiring employer-provided insurance plans to cover birth control and other forms of contraception, including sterilization. As WLP blogged about today, twenty-four legal challenges are still pending in courts. The ACA already provides exceptions for religious institutions, and allows religiously affiliated businesses to push cost and administration on to the insurance companies. These accommodations, however, have not stopped the debate. WLP has blogged before about lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of the provision on the basis of the First Amendment. As Terry Fromson, WLP’s Managing Attorney, explained, “the First Amendment does not give church leaders any right to impose their beliefs about contraception on women.”

Overall, the implementation of this provision of the ACA represents an important and necessary change to the way we view women and women’s health. Reproductive and sexual health must be seen as central to ensuring the health and well-being of all women, and not as a secondary concern. America will be healthier if women are given better access to the services necessary to care for themselves and their families, and increasing access to contraception is a step in the right direction.

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Filed under Contraception, First Amendment, Government, Health Care, Health insurance, Maternity Coverage, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Sexually Transmitted Infections, Women's health

The Hypocrisy of Cuts to Medicaid Reimbursements for Newborn Care

Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney

When Pennsylvania’s politicians say they are for protecting the unborn, they mean it literally: the minute you’re born, you’re on your own.

Last month, Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare (DPW), which is run by Governor Tom Corbett’s political appointees, yanked the rug out from under maternity wards state-wide by eliminating the $1,155 payment it used to make to hospitals for a newborn’s regular care when the mother is on Medical Assistance (Pennsylvania’s name for Medicaid).  DPW will continue to reimburse hospitals for the mother’s care, but it will no longer reimburse hospitals for the baby’s care unless the baby develops complications or needs to stay longer than normal for observation.

Nearly half of all births in Pennsylvania are paid for by Medical Assistance, so the reimbursement cuts will significantly impact hospitals across the state that provide maternity care, forcing them to absorb even more of the cost for the services they provide to pregnant women and their babies. Even prior to these cuts, hospitals typically lost money on Medicaid deliveries. One community hospital reported that every Medical Assistance delivery costs the hospital between $7,800 and $8,400, while the Medicaid reimbursement prior to May 1st was a mere $6,867 for both mother and baby. Now it is just $5,712.

Large hospitals that also serve many privately-insured mothers might be able to spread the loss among other deliveries, or even among other departments in the hospital. However, independent community hospitals that already have trouble breaking even will face greater financial difficulties.  As a result, they may have to close their maternity wards and lay off employees, making it even harder for Pennsylvania’s pregnant women to receive maternity care within a reasonable distance from their homes. Already, as the Women’s Law Project explores in our recent publication, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women, many women in Pennsylvania, particularly if they are poor, have few options when choosing obstetrical providers. For these women, the result of the shrinking number of obstetrical providers that accept Medical Assistance is a delay or a denial in receiving prenatal care, medical care that is important for the health of pregnant women and their babies. DPW’s cuts to hospital reimbursements will only exacerbate an already dire situation for women who receive Medicaid.

DPW’s decision to cut hospital reimbursements for newborn care is another example of how misguided Governor Corbett’s administration is on issues relating to women’s and children’s health.  The governor pressed for controversial legislation that would mandate women undergo medically-unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds prior to receiving abortions, justifying the bill by claiming these women can just “close their eyes,” but his administration will not even use a combination of federal and state funds to pay for the medical assessments and procedures newborn babies need in the crucial first 72 hours after they are born.

If Governor Corbett and DPW truly believed in the sanctity of life, they would promote policies that help women have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. Their hypocrisy couldn’t be more apparent than in cutting maternity reimbursements for the care of newborn babies.

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Filed under Health Care, Maternity Coverage, PA Law, Pennsylvania, Pregnancy, Uncategorized, Women's health