Tag Archives: Sex discrimination

ALERT: ATHLETIC EQUITY REPORTING LAW UNDER ATTACK IN HARRISBURG!

Just last week, the first annual athletic gender equity reports were due from public secondary schools under a new state law that passed on June 30, 2012.  The Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act (or Act 82 Article XVI-C) requires secondary schools to provide annual, publicly released reports containing information about school-sponsored athletic programs in order to improve schools’ compliance with Title IX and work towards achieving gender equality.

Sadly, efforts are currently underway in the state legislature to interfere with this law before the first reports are even publicly released.  On Tuesday, October 22, House Bill 1734 will be considered by the House Education Committee.  House Bill 1734 would repeal several crucial provisions of this important disclosure law.

  • HB 1734 would eliminate the requirement that schools report the      total value of booster club purchases for each team. (Significantly, this portion of the reporting law does not even take effect until next year.)  Some schools blame the inequality of their athletic programs on booster clubs, but in fact, schools are responsible for ensuring that boys and      girls have equal opportunities and experiences. HB 1734 would allow schools to remove from their annual reporting the privately raised money being poured into boys’ teams.
  • HB 1734 would repeal the requirement that, for the first year only, schools include the dates when each team was established. This      easily available information shows whether schools have a history and continuing practice of expanding the girls’ athletic program.
  • HB 1734 would sunset all reporting after just three years.

Passing HB 1734 virtually guarantees that parents and students will have to turn to other, more burdensome ways of learning about their schools’ compliance with state and federal gender equity laws.

The participation gap between boys and girls in interscholastic athletics is widening.  See Decade of Decline: Gender Equity in High School Sports, Sharp Center & Women’s Sports Foundation, Oct. 2012.  Now is the wrong time to retreat from the mandate of equal opportunity and fair treatment for our girls.

What you can do:

  • Contact your state rep and urge him or her to vote NO on HB 1734 and stand up for gender equality.
  • Visit your local public high school’s website and see what its Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure report has to say.
  • Can’t find a report from your school? Contact your school’s Title IX officer and ask where you can get a copy of the report.
  • Can’t find your school’s Title IX officer? Call your school’s superintendent and ask who the Title IX officer is and how you can get a copy of the Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure report.
  • Not getting the information you are entitled to? Call the Women’s Law Project: 412-281-2892 or 215-928-9801.

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Gender Discrimination, Girls, PA Law, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Sex Discrimination, Sports, Title IX, Women's Law Project

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

The Wage Gap Starts in Childhood

Aly Mance, WLP Intern

Parents do their best to be good role models for their children; and for generations, they have given their children chores to do in exchange for an allowance in order to teach them responsibility and work ethic.  Sadly though, at a very young age, their children are also learning firsthand about the gender wage gap.  According to a recent article in Salon, parents are inadvertently teaching their daughters that their work is worth less than that of their sons.

A 2006 study conducted by University of Michigan economists found that girls spent two more hours per week doing chores than boys in a study of 3,000 kids.  Boys are enjoying more leisure time than their sisters, an imbalance that continues into adulthood.  According to the Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development, men “report spending more time in activities counted as leisure than women.”

Not only are boys spending less time weekly on chores than girls, they are also making more money when they do them.  Boys’ chores appear to be more profitable, and parents deem the work done by boys to be more valuable than the chores done by girls —demonstrated by the fact that boys make more money per week than girls while working 2 hours less per week.  Boys tend to be assigned jobs like mowing the lawn, taking the trash out, or shoveling snow from the driveway; whereas girls tend to do indoor chores such as washing the dishes, cleaning bedrooms, or doing the laundry.  Parents find the work that boys do outside of the home more important and valuable than the traditionally “feminine” chores that girls do within the home.

These ideas and attitudes are perpetuated into adulthood.  A study conducted by Andrew Healy and Neil Mahorta shows that men who grow up with sisters do less housework than their wives.  This suggests that the gender separated chore environment from their childhood permanently altered their conception of gender roles.  It continues to reinforce the centuries-old idea that women battle every day in the working world: women belong in the home.  By telling children that girls do the dishes while boys take out the trash and that girls sweep the floors while boys shovel the driveways, parents make it clear that girls belong in the home, while boys belong outside of it.  A woman can’t “do a man’s job,” and she will always be paid and valued less for doing the same or more work.  They make it clear to their children that a woman’s work will always carry less worth than a man’s.

So here’s what parents should be doing: equally divide up the chores and equally pay each child. The same way that chores can reinforce traditional gender roles, sexism, and society’s acceptance of the wage gap, they can be used to develop egalitarian attitudes towards gender.  Ask your daughters to mow the lawn and your sons to fold the towels.  It could help reshape society and end the idea of traditional gender roles that support the wage gap.

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Filed under Economic Justice, Equal pay, Gender Discrimination, Girls, Sexism, Wage Gap

Helping make campuses safer

By Carol E. Tracy, WLP Executive Director and
Terry L. Fromson, Managing Attorney

Sexual assault and harassment on college campuses have finally gotten the attention of federal authorities charged with monitoring compliance with Title’s IX sex-discrimination prohibition.

The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidelines for how schools must respond to sexual harassment, including sexual assault. In addition, along with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating complaints of noncompliance, issuing findings of discrimination, and entering into resolutions with schools. College students are also filing challenges to inadequate campus responses to complaints of sexual assault and harassment.

With students heading back to colleges and universities this month, now is the time to heed the Department of Education’s call to action to address the serious issue of campus sexual misconduct.

Recent studies estimate that 20 percent of young women and 6 percent of young men will experience a completed or attempted rape during their college career. In addition, almost two-thirds of students report experiencing some form of sexual harassment, with nearly a third reporting being touched, grabbed, or forced to do something sexual. Such victimization can cause physical, emotional, and educational consequences that may be life-long. Many promising students are unable to complete their education and achieve their goals. Some victims are so traumatized that they become suicidal.

Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions. Although more generally known for its provisions related to female participation in athletics, it also prohibits discrimination in other areas, including sexual harassment. When an institution knows, or reasonably should know, of sexual harassment that denies or limits a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from its educational program, Title IX requires it to take immediate, effective action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.

By accepting tens of millions of taxpayer dollars from the federal government, educational institutions agree to conform to federal antidiscrimination laws. However, compliance with the 41-year-old Title IX is sparse at best.

The federal government is finally taking corrective action, but recent criticism of its actions are misinformed and undermine the purpose of Title IX. Throughout its guidance to schools, the Education Department repeatedly emphasizes the importance of impartiality. The guidelines do not broaden the definition of sexual harassment. They require clear, accessible policies and procedures to encourage reporting and prevent more severe or pervasive misconduct. They have not weakened the standard for evaluating sexual misconduct or denied the accused fair treatment. They have confirmed an appropriate standard that was already used on 80 percent of campuses and given victims the same rights accorded the accused. They require interim measures necessary to eliminate a hostile environment, make campuses safer, and help victimized students stay in school and complete their education.

The government is not encouraging schools to mete out inappropriate discipline. Instead, it seeks to ensure that colleges and universities provide students with clear messages to discourage sexual misconduct. Recent criticism that suggests that simply asking someone for a date would amount to sexual harassment — and would subject a student to discipline or a college to a Title IX violation — is absurd and trivializes the severity of campus sexual assault and harassment.

For too long, campus victims of sexual misconduct have suffered in unresponsive environments embedded with victim-blaming myths. Much like women in the military, they have struggled through confusing policies and systems while seeking justice. Instead, they are often re-traumatized and wind up experiencing adverse academic and career consequences. However, finally, much like women in the military, college women are raising their voices in protest over these conditions.

Our schools need to do more, not less, to prevent sexual harassment, deter sexual predators on campus, and respond appropriately to the troubling frequency of sexual misconduct. Indeed, institutions of higher education should be striving to create model communities that are free of discrimination, sexual misconduct, and violence.

We welcome the federal government’s willingness to flex its muscle to make this happen.

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Note: This piece appeared as an Op-Ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 8, 2013.

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Filed under college campuses, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sexual Assault, Sexual harassment, Title IX, Violence Against Women

Major League Baseball Includes Sexual Orientation in its Anti-Discrimination Policy

By Molly Duerig, WLP Intern

It’s no mystery why the Major League Baseball Players Association has announced a new component to its anti-discrimination policy that specifically denounces discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Many professional athletes are openly supportive of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

This Huffington Post article lists 28 such athletes, including Hudson Taylor, a three-time all-American wrestler from the University of Maryland who in January 2011 started Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization focused on uniting athletes who pledge to respect one another, regardless of perceived or actual sexual orientation.

As of now, no Major League Baseball (MLB) player is an Athlete Ally Pro Ambassador – someone who has pledged to promote the organization’s mission to end homophobia and transphobia in sports. Currently, Pro Allies range from NFL players and North American Soccer League members to collegiate lacrosse coaches and players.

Perhaps the MLB’s new policy will motivate players to join ranks with Athlete Ally, as well. Clearly, momentum is rising for equality in the professional sports world.

The MLB’s progress is in keeping with a growing trend of advocacy for gay rights in the professional sports world. In late February, the National Football League’s anti-discrimination policy was questioned, when Colorado tight end Nick Kasa revealed he’d been asked about his sexual orientation during his interview.

Kasa told ESPN Radio Denver that at the NFL Scouting Combine, he was asked questions such as “Are you married?” and “Do you like girls?” by an NFL team.

Later, the NFL investigated these claims made by Kasa, ones that were echoed by other draft-eligible prospects. The NFL took no official action, but reminded interviewers not to consider sexual orientation as a factor in hiring. It also cited the questions asked of Kasa as inappropriate for interviews.

Although many athletes identify as LGBT, relatively few professional athletes have come out as openly gay. LGBT rights organizations have blamed the policies and attitudes in sports that encourage athletes to cover up their true sexual orientations. The discriminatory questions asked of NFL players are, unfortunately, just one example.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said that the organization has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation, “both on the field and away from it.”

“We welcome all individuals regardless of sexual orientation into our ballparks, along with those of different races, religions, genders and national origins,” Selig said.

Last October, all 30 MLB teams “went purple” for Spirit Day on the 17th, showcasing their support and respect for the LGBT community.

The organization seems to be moving in a positive direction toward acceptance and support of LGBT folk.

Last August, the NBA became the first major sports league to receive sensitivity training from Athlete Ally, which has offered to train all major league sports teams on preventing bullying and promoting inclusion.

Hopefully, the MLB will also take Athlete Ally up on its offer now that it has officially spoken out against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The organization has nothing to lose – and everything to gain – for openly promoting inclusion and acceptance of all different kinds of players.

After all, true teamwork requires that kind of acceptance. Now we just look forward to the day when the MLB welcomes women baseball players onto its rosters.

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Filed under Gender Discrimination, LGBT, Sex Discrimination, Sexual harassment, Sexual orientation

Study Affirms Positive Effects of Athletic Participation for Girls & Young Women & the Need for Greater Equity

By Kaitlin Leskovac, WLP Summer Intern

A recent study conducted by Ernst and Young explores the correlation between women who hold executive positions at various companies and their previous athletic participation. Ernst and Young surveyed 821 senior managers and executives, of whom 40% were female. Of these female senior managers and executives, roughly 90 percent of them had previously played sports at some level. The report cautions, “correlation here doesn’t immediately imply causality,” however, “it is clear that sport can play a positive role in developing the leadership skills of female executives” and “that a sports-oriented background can be a useful tool for those women seeking to climb to the top.” These conclusions reinforce the positive effects of continued and increased participation in athletics by girls and young women.

As we strive for greater parity for women in executive and other leadership positions, it is important for girls and young women to have the opportunities, resources and environmental considerations encouraging them to participate in athletics. Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania and nationwide, this is not always the case. Despite manifest evidence of the benefits of playing sports, studies in Pennsylvania show that girls between the ages of 6 and 17 consistently engage in less physical activity than boys.

WLP’s reporting on sex bias in school athletics finds that the principal deterrent of female athletic participation is gender norms, that is, social attitudes about femininity and expectations about how girls should behave. These findings echo Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s observations of the tendency to refer to young girls as bossy, instead of encouraging the development of leadership skills. Widely held social norms about appropriate feminine behavior for girls not only discourage athletic participation, but may influence the development of leadership skills and in turn, may affect how girls eventually fare on the ladder for executive positions in the corporate world and other sectors of society.

In addition to influential social norms, there are concrete disparities in resources and opportunities in athletic programming in schools, at the secondary and collegiate levels. Today, women compose over 50 percent of the undergraduate population at universities nationwide, but only have roughly 43 percent of athletic opportunities available to them on campuses. WLP’s report on sex bias in school athletics finds that female college athletes receive far less than male athletes in scholarship and recruiting money, and often have inferior facilities relative to male athletes. WLP’s report demonstrates that Pennsylvania high schools similarly fail to provide equal opportunity to female students. For example, in the 2010-2011 school year, PA schools provided 170,630 athletic opportunities to boys while providing only 146,057 opportunities to girls.

The underrepresentation of women in leadership positions in all sectors of society stems from pervasive sex bias and unequal treatment. To move forward, it is essential that girls have equal opportunity to develop leadership skills. Ernst and Young’s study notes growing reliance by companies and organizations on team-based approaches to address complex issues, underscoring the increasing value in the workplace of prior team experience. The important correlation between prior athletic participation and women holding executive positions should not be overlooked, and should inform school policies that provide for equal opportunity for female participation in athletic activities.

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Education, Gender Discrimination, Sex Discrimination, Sports, Title IX, Women Leaders, Women's Law Project, working women

Title IX requirements not burdensome

By Terry L. Fromson, WLP Managing Attorney

On June 19, 2013, the Northwestern Lehigh School District Board of Directors adopted a resolution that would keep basic information from parents and students about the sports programs their tax dollars support.

The resolution also revealed shocking ignorance about Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, including in school athletic programs.  Resolving to support the repeal of a law adopted last year by the Pennsylvania Legislature that requires public high schools, junior highs, and middle schools to fill out a reporting form once a year showing how schools are doing in achieving gender equity in their athletic programs, the Board resolution incredulously states that “the provisions of Title IX, which is federal law, are not applicable to local school districts.”

To the contrary, Title IX applies to any educational program that receives any federal financial assistance.  There are few, if any, schools that don’t receive any federal funding.  Title IX requires our schools to provide equal athletic opportunities and treatment to girls. Adopted 41 years ago this month, Title IX required schools to become compliant within three years.  Yet, many schools have not only failed to achieve equality in their sports programs, but overall, conditions have actually worsened for girls.

Last year’s passage of the reporting law was a victory for girls who want to participate in school athletics in Pennsylvania and for their parents who expect equal opportunity for their daughters in school. It simply provides the taxpaying public with knowledge about whether their local schools are in compliance with or in violation of Title IX.   The law is not burdensome.  The information it asks schools to share is in their possession and is already reportable on a request by request basis under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law.  Compiling one report each year, a task estimated to take no more than six hours, will consume less time and effort than responding to multiple requests throughout the year.  This small investment of time is more than reasonable to ensure female athletes in Pennsylvania’s schools are provided with the athletic opportunities required by law.

At this same meeting, the Northwestern Lehigh School Board voted to “move forward” with plans to seek private funding for improvements to the athletic stadium and track field at a projected cost of $2.1 million. Without more information, it cannot definitively be said whether these improvements will result in or contribute to an uneven playing field for girls in the Northwestern Lehigh School District.  However, the Board should know that female student athletes must be treated equally even if private funding is used to purchase extra perks for male student athletes.

******

Please also see recent commentary by Paul Carpenter of The Morning Call:  Title IX spotlights scholastic sports — for all students or just the Al Bundy types?

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Education, Equality, Gender Discrimination, Girls, Sex Discrimination, Sports, Title IX

Sex-Segregated Public Education Reinforces Harmful Gender and Racial Stereotypes

By Claire Throckmorton, WLP Legal Intern

In 2010, the Pittsburgh Public School Board voted to separate one of its lowest performing schools, Westinghouse High School, into two single-sex academies. The decision to gender-segregate Westinghouse High School was largely influenced by false notions that boys and girls are so innately different that they must be taught separately using distinct teaching methods. Luckily this sex-segregated experiment ended in November 2011 through the joint efforts of the Women’s Law Project, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.

So what is driving some schools to opt for single-sex educational models?  Proponents of single-sex education argue that separating the sexes will enhance students’ academic achievement by eliminating the “distraction” from the other sex and utilizing teaching methods which address boys and girls’ “innately different” learning styles. In 2006, changes to the U.S. Department of Education’s regulations, motivated by the No Child Left Behind Act, eroded legal impediments to single-sex public education. Since these changes, an estimated 500 to 1,000 public schools across the country offered single-sex education in 2012, compared with only 12 in 2002. These single-sex public schools are arising as an effort to combat low state testing scores in school districts with predominantly low-income students of color.

In light of the dramatic increase of sex-segregated public schools in the United States, Associate Professor Sara Goodkind at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work, and fellow university researchers, interviewed students, teachers, and parents at Westinghouse High School to analyze whether sex-segregating the high school had the desired effect.  Their findings were published in a recent article entitled, Providing new opportunities or reinforcing old stereotypes? Perceptions and experiences of single-sex public education.*  Instead of reducing “distractions” among the sexes, Goodkind found that segregating boys and girls served to heighten sexual harassment of girls in between classes and reinforce notions of gender essentialism. According to Goodkind, the assumption that sex-segregation will reduce the students’ distractions from schoolwork is not only problematically heteronormative, but also minimizes the students’ true distractions in the classroom. As one teacher noted, “I mean, our kids get shot…Our kids get raped. Our kids are homeless. Our kids are victims of abuse.” Sex-segregation serves only to ignore the true issues students at Westinghouse, and those similarly situated, are facing.

Sex-segregation also serves to reinforce racialized stereotypes of hypersexuality and gender. Students explained that Westinghouse was a “Black school,” therefore the administration thought that the girls were loud, crazy, and “try to be all up on the boys.” One teacher noticed gender stereotypes being reinforced when the school decided to take only the girls to see The Scarlet Letter. The teacher noted, “That’s a little gender-biased there, you know, they felt as though they should warn the girls not be sluts?”

There is no solid empirical proof that single-sex education has any academic benefits. Furthermore, it actually reinforces inaccurate gender stereotypes and further marginalizes queer, transgender, and intersex students. As Goodkind notes, “Separating students by sex as a solution to low academic achievement diverts attention from systematic problems of poverty and racism and leaves structural inequality intact.”

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Filed under Education, Gender Discrimination, Pittsburgh, Sex Discrimination, sex segregated public schools, Single-Sex Schools

Rainbow Alliance Scores Early Victory in Battle Over University of Pittsburgh’s Gendered Facilities Policy

The first volley in a challenge to the University of Pittsburgh’s gendered facilities policy was resolved in the challengers’ favor last week, when the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations denied the University’s motion to dismiss a gender discrimination complaint filed by the Rainbow Alliance, a student group represented by the Women’s Law Project and Drexel University Professor David S. Cohen. As a result of this ruling, Rainbow Alliance’s case against the University will move forward.

Rainbow Alliance filed its discrimination complaint in April 2012, after University officials announced that students and faculty would be permitted to use only those bathrooms and other gender-specific campus facilities that correspond to the gender on the user’s birth certificate. This policy has had a particularly harsh impact on transgender students and faculty, as well as people whose gender expression does not conform to traditional gender roles.

Transgender people who don’t want to run afoul of this policy must travel with their birth certificate within easy reach and be prepared to produce it if challenged at the bathroom door. Moreover, changing the sex designation on one’s birth certificate can be a difficult, expensive and time-consuming process for transgender people; and in some jurisdictions, it is impossible.  For anyone without a corrected birth certificate, the choices are grim: violate the policy and risk the consequences; go off campus to search for a restroom; or endure the humiliation and harassment involved with using a restroom reserved for the opposite gender.

To bar transgender people from bathroom facilities is to bar them from full participation in the University community. Congratulations to Rainbow Alliance for challenging this policy!

For more information about the Women’s Law Project in fighting against gender discrimination and LGBT rights, please visit our web site.

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Filed under Gender Discrimination, LGBT, Pittsburgh, Sex Discrimination, Sexual orientation

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