Working pregnant women face rampant discrimination: agency

Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:44pm EST
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By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than three decades after Congress passed a law trying to protect pregnant women in the workplace, discrimination is still widespread and needs to be combated with publicity and clearer guidelines, according to testimony Wednesday at a federal hearing.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's legal counsel, Peggy Mastroianni, said the agency had resolved 52,000 pregnancy cases since 2001, with $150.5 million paid out in damages.

Discrimination against pregnant women includes firing, forced leave without pay, being denied a place to pump breast milk and being barred from some work, witnesses told the five-member EEOC panel at a hearing on the issue.

Decades after the passage of the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, discrimination ranges from the shop floor to the executive suite, with sexual stereotyping a major factor. It is found in every state, but is more likely to hit women in low-income jobs, they said.

"This many years after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, we still have employers who still don't understand the basics. Are we getting the word out on fundamental issues?" said Commissioner Constance Barker.

The issue of workplace discrimination was highlighted two weeks ago when a federal judge in Texas ruled against a Houston mother who said she was fired after asking for a place to pump breast milk.

The EEOC helped litigate the case. General Counsel David Lopez said the agency was weighing whether to appeal the ruling.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act forbids discrimination by employers based on pregnancy, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments and promotions. Under the law, pregnancy is considered a temporarily disabling condition.   Continued...