Tag Archives: Women’s Law Project

Pittsburgh Passes “Reasonable Accommodations” for Pregnant Workers

By Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

Pittsburgh City Council passed legislation that calls for “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant women who work for the city or city contracts, and bans discrimination against pregnant employees.

The ordinance, Reasonable Accommodations Due to Pregnancy, Childbirth or Related Medical Conditions, was introduced by councilmembers Dan Gilman and Deb Gross.

At a hearing introducing the bill last month, Gilman called the legislation “essential.”

“Many times women don’t know the rights they have,” Gilman said. “It’s an important opportunity to use the megaphone of city hall to tell all women in Western Pennsylvania that if you’re going to work for the city or do business with the city, you have a reasonable expectation of a healthy and vibrant pregnancy while working.”

The ordinance notes that “more than 35 years after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) made it illegal to discriminate against a woman because of her pregnancy, women still face discrimination on the job when they become pregnant, especially in physically-demanding jobs.”

It also cites examples of discrimination from around the state, including a supermarket cashier in central PA who lost her job because she followed her doctor’s orders to carry a water bottle and a pregnant security guard denied a request to sit down part of her shift in downtown Pittsburgh.

Though the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 banned discrimination against pregnant workers, it does not address reasonable accommodations under all circumstances.

Women’s Law Project provided legal guidance and strongly supported the ordinance. Staff attorney Tara Pfeifer testified at a hearing earlier this month in support of the bill.

“At the Women’s Law Project, we have seen an increasing number of pregnant women contact us over the past few years because of the obstacles they face at work,” Pfeifer testified. “The majority of the women who have contacted us work in low-wage, physically demanding jobs, are having healthy pregnancies, and need only minor adjustments in the workplace as their pregnancies progress. “

As the ACLU noted, Pittsburgh City Council, unfortunately, doesn’t have the authority under state law to expand protections to pregnant women who work for private employers.

Earlier this year, Rep. Mark Painter and Senator Matt Smith introduced bills to extend similar protections to pregnant workers throughout the state as part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health.

Both bills have been sitting in committee for months.

Pennsylvania is one of the top ten worst states for pregnancy discrimination, according to a 2008 report by the National Partnership for Women and Families.

In January, Philadelphia amended the Fair Practices Ordinance to provide reasonable accommodations protection for pregnant workers.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, Jr. has been calling for support of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would extend reasonable accommodations protection nationally.

According to a recent report in the Patriot News, “the bill has more than 30 co-sponsors and the support of President Barack Obama, but it has no bipartisan support. Casey said he’s doubtful, for that reason, that it will make it out of its committee this term.”

Contact Tara Murtha at tmurtha@womenslawproject.org or 215-928-5762 for more information or to speak with a Women’s Law Project attorney.

Leave a comment

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

Women’s Law Project Joins Nationwide Coalition Calling on Department of Justice to Denounce Enhanced Sentence for Pregnant Woman

By Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

Women’s Law Project joined New Voices Philadelphia: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice, New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice, and a coalition of 48 reproductive justice, drug policy reform, women’s rights and civil liberties organizations across the country in sending a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to renounce enhanced criminal penalties for women on the basis of pregnancy.

From a statement released by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women:

In the case at issue, Lacey Weld pled guilty to the crime of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine.  According to a statement issued by U.S. Attorney William C. Killian of the Eastern District of Tennessee, she was given an enhanced sentence—an additional six years in federal prison—because she was pregnant at the time she committed the crime.

The coalition demonstrates in its strongly worded letter that an enhanced sentence based on pregnancy is contrary to the Obama Administration’s commitment to rational and just sentencing policies, women’s reproductive and civil rights, and the health and well-being of children and families. The letter also makes clear that this position is contrary to the Obama Administration’s stated support for science and evidence-based research as the basis for public policy.

Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, calls the action “profoundly discriminatory.”

Cherisse Scott, Founder and CEO of the Tennessee-based organization SisterReach, said:

“Opening the door to enhanced penalties for pregnant women will unquestionably make women of color—a group already subject to extraordinary disproportionality in criminal punishment and sentencing—even more vulnerable to state and federal control and punishment. U.S. Attorney Killian’s statement reinforced medical misinformation that is fueling the arrests of pregnant women and new mothers under Tennessee’s new fetal assault law and destroying families in the process.”

From the letter sent to Attorney General Holder:

Targeting women who become pregnant for unique crimes and special penalties defies principles of equal protection as well as this Administration’s clear commitment to equal justice for women and families, as demonstrated by numerous efforts including its establishment of the Council on Women and Girls, its support for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and its emphasis on pay equity.

The imposition of criminal sanctions for using methamphetamine – a non-existent crime –violates clear due process principles and prohibitions on ex post facto laws. It also directly conflicts with Administration positions on drug policy.  As the Acting Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy recently explained: “Under the Obama administration, we’ve really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction. . . . We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease.”

Read the full letter here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Pregnancy, pregnancy discrimination, Women's Law Project

September, We Hardly Knew Ye

By Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

First, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tara Murtha, and I’m the newest member of the Women’s Law Project team. I’ll be working on strategic communications, which includes corresponding with you, our beloved constituent and supporter of equal rights for women and girls. I’ve known about the work of Women’s Law Project for years, as a journalist and engaged member of the Philadelphia community interested in social justice and equality. Even so, since coming on board, I’ve discovered WLP staff and board members have their hands in even more projects than I realized. I’m thrilled to be able to work with them directly and to meet some of you at our annual party in December.

I couldn’t think of a more exciting time to work on these issues. We have the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health on the table, a bipartisan package of bills focused on women’s health and economic equality—of course, neither issue can seriously be discussed without the other. Since announcing the first and then second wave of bills, many of these bills have been introduced and sent to committee. In July, Governor Corbett signed a version of the so-called “Revenge Porn” bill initially introduced as part of the Agenda.

Meanwhile, we’ve entered a feminist zeitgeist where we find WLP issues like sexual assault, campus sexual assault, domestic violence awareness and equal pay in the daily news cycle. It seems society is waking up once again, and I’m happy to be here, ready to rise and shine a brighter light on these issues along with the rest of the staff and your support.

Have an idea or want to work on a project to engage voters? Have feedback on the website, or want to know more about a particular issue? Drop me a line. I can be reached at 215-928-5762, or drop me a note at tmurtha@womenslawproject.org.

So! Introductions out of the way, let’s get back to September, the best month that smells like freshly sharpened pencils. The kids are back in school, and the Legislature is back in session.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly reconvened just as the US Census Bureau published a new report revealing that 14.5 percent of Americans live in poverty. So what is one of the first things the Pennsylvania Legislature do? Propose cutting benefits to struggling families with newborn babies.

Sponsored by Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, HB 2477 would implement what’s known as a “family cap” on the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program. Family caps deny babies conceived while the family is enrolled in the program from receiving TANF benefits. Quite literally, this bill attempts to deter poor women from giving birth by refusing to financially help the child.

We think it’s a bad idea. You can read more about the family cap bill on the Women’s Law Project blog here. We’ll keep you posted if it progresses.

Now, some good news: For the first time in more than 50 years, Pennsylvania hosted a hearing on the ongoing and persistent problem of the gender pay gap.

On September 18, WLP Senior Attorney Susan Frietsche testified in support of House Bill 1890 in front of the Pennsylvania House Labor and Industry Committee. Sponsored by Rep. Erin Molchany and Rep. Brian Sims, H.B. 1890 would amend Pennsylvania’s Equal Pay Act to give it some teeth.

Pennsylvania’s gender wage gap is the 12th largest in the country. Despite equal pay laws on the books, gender wage gap is still persistent, and progress narrowing it has slowed. Women working full-time year round in Pennsylvania are paid 76 cents to the dollar paid to men. A Pennsylvania woman working full time, year-round is paid $11,916 less a year than a man working full time, year round.

H.B.1890 would go a long way toward chiseling down that difference.

More good news: We’ve also seen momentum on the Patient Trust Act. Introduced by Rep. Dan Frankel, the Patient Trust Act says that politicians have no business putting words that are “not medically accurate and appropriate for the patient” into the mouths of doctors.

The Patriot-News, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Delaware County Daily Times and the Huffington Post are just a few of the outlets that published a powerful op-ed on the Patient Trust Act written by WLP Senior Staff attorney Sue Frietsche and WomenVote PA co-chair Kate Michelman.

The Patient Trust Act is a model for other states; a recent report called Bad Medicine: How a Political Agenda is Undermining Women’s Health Care demonstrates that these kinds of bills where politicians try to force words into the mouths of doctors are becoming increasingly common. Both the Equal Pay legislation and the Patient Trust Act were drafted as part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health.

A Pennsylvania doctor expressed her support for the bill by writing a letter to the editor of the Patriot News: “I certainly don’t want a politician putting words in my mouth,” wrote Dr. Kristen McElhinney. “Especially if those words aren’t medically accurate or appropriate for a patient in my care. Who can argue with protecting my sacred commitment to my patients?”

We’ll be watching for an answer to that question, and keep you posted on the bill’s continued progress.

What else? We hung out with All Above All, a national organization advocated for a repeal of restrictions on abortion funding, when they stopped at Love Park in Philadelphia as part of a national tour.

In the digital space, WomenVote PA, the action arm of the Women’s Law Project, launched a new Tumblr blog as another way to keep everyone informed with policy updates, news and the latest reports relevant to equality for women and girls in Pennsylvania and beyond. Please check us out and follow, heart and re-blog us over at http://womenvotepa.tumblr.com. (You can also follow us on twitter at @womenvotepa, and like us on Facebook.)

Best regards,


Leave a comment

Filed under PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Reproductive Rights, Women's Law Project, women's rights

Doctors Aren’t Dummies: Support the Patient Trust Act

By Kate Michelman, WomenVote PA and Susan Frietsche, WLP Senior Staff Attorney

Doctors aren’t dummies.

They don’t need politicians to tell them what they can and can’t say to patients, or how to administer tests and treatments.

On September 8, the House Democratic Policy Committee convened to explore the need to pass the Patient Trust Act in Pennsylvania. Physicians, medical ethics experts, and patient advocates met in Pittsburgh to discuss the dangers patients face when medical care becomes politicized.

Introduced by Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) and Senator Mike Stack (D-Phila) in July, the Patient Trust Act is part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health, a pro-active, pro-choice package of bills developed by the bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus in the Pennsylvania Legislature.

The Patient Trust Act protects patients. It says that politicians have no business putting words that are “not medically accurate and appropriate for the patient” into the mouths of doctors.

Since antiquity, physicians have taken an oath to treat patients to the best of their ability, with knowledge rooted in clinical experience and scientific consensus. But in recent years, politicians have made it difficult — and in some cases even illegal — for doctors to keep that sacred obligation.

These government-intrusion laws run the gamut from prohibitions on discussing gun storage safety with patients to gag orders preventing doctors from naming the toxic chemicals that are poisoning a patient’s body. A significant number of these government-intrusion laws are proposed by lawmakers trying to disguise their opposition to contraception and abortion by disingenuously claiming that these laws promote women’s health and safety.

Recently, the National Partnership for Women and Families released a report that explored the nationwide spike in laws that command doctors what to say and coerce them to administer — and bill patients for — medically unnecessary procedures.

Bad Medicine: How a Political Agenda is Undermining Women’s Health found that the majority of states — 35 in all — have passed such laws. In many cases, the information doctors are forced to give patients is not even medically and scientifically accurate.

The report’s authors concluded that “anti-choice laws are requiring health care providers to choose between following their medical training and their ethical obligations to their patients — and following the law.”

From the Bad Medicine report:

*Five states force doctors to tell patients of a false link between abortion and breast cancer.

*Five states force doctors to falsely advise a patient that an abortion will affect her future fertility.

*Eight states force doctors to provide misinformation that falsely indicates the only possible emotional response to abortion is negative.

*Twelve states force doctors to provide unfounded information that fetuses can feel pain, despite lack of scientific evidence.

In 2012, anti-choice Pennsylvania lawmakers proposed mandating that doctors perform medically unnecessary ultrasounds on women seeking an abortion. The bill, one of the most severe of its kind in the country, was quietly abandoned after a similar bill led to a backlash in Virginia.

But that doesn’t mean the mandatory ultrasound bill, or legislation like it, won’t be proposed in Pennsylvania again.

Laws like these enable politicians to act like ventriloquists, throwing their words into the mouths of doctors. It’s time for politicians to stop masquerading as ideological ventriloquists.

Doctors aren’t dummies. Patients deserve better. Women need to be able to trust that the voice they’re hearing is from their physician, not from Harrisburg’s political puppeteers.

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.


Filed under Contraception, Health Care, Health insurance, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

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.

1 Comment

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

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.

Comments Off

Filed under Athletic Equity, Title IX


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.

Comments Off

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