Elizabeth Gedmark

    Real Stories from Pregnant Workers: Making Their Voices Heard and Making a Difference

    Posted September 19th, 2012 by

    Natasha Jackson was working as a customer account representative at a Rent-A-Center in South Carolina when she became pregnant. For the first month her supervisor accommodated her without incident (other workers were available to move large items), but when the district manager found out what was going on, he made her use up her vacation days and then pushed her onto unpaid leave from work. The company never let her come back to her job despite repeated attempts. Natasha and her husband lost the house they were hoping to buy once she was no longer bringing in income. We heard about Natasha’s case from her lawyer—they had taken her case to arbitration, but the arbitrator found that Rent-A-Center’s actions were not discriminatory.

    A Better Balance is working to make sure that what happened to Natasha doesn’t happen to other women by supporting the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. Earlier today, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced the Senate version of the bill, which already has over 100 cosponsors in the House of Representatives where Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) introduced it earlier this year. The PWFA would make sure that pregnant women are not pushed out of work because they need light duty, restroom breaks, or water breaks—unless doing so would cause an undue hardship on the employer.

    Stories like Natasha’s are horrible, but they also have the ability to force change. Just look at Lily Ledbetter. Her story of being paid unfairly for decades, simply because she was a woman, prompted the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which strengthened the Equal Pay Act’s protections against pay discrimination. Even though she lost her case in court, Ledbetter still found justice by using her story to shape the law and protect other women in the future.

    This is why a coalition of advocates, including A Better Balance, put together a compilation of eleven stories from across the country, called: “Why We Need the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Stories of Real Women” in time for the Senate introduction of the PWFA. These stories offer a snapshot of the many accounts we have heard from women nationwide struggling to resist this form of pregnancy discrimination.

    Women like Diana Teigland, who has been a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service in Minnesota for the past nine years. Her doctor put her on a heat restriction and because this past summer was extremely hot (even in Minnesota!) she had to limit her time outside. The post office would not let her have inside duty. Instead, she’s been using up all of her saved sick and vacation days—precious days that she was hoping to use after the baby arrives. Diana feels like she is being punished for getting pregnant.

    Jane*, a pregnant restaurant worker in DC, was fired for leaving early to attend a prenatal appointment. Before that, her supervisor wouldn’t let her take food or water breaks and publicly yelled at her for taking restroom breaks. Shelly*, a retail worker in Indiana, along with an airline ticket agent in Louisiana, a firefighter in Michigan, and a train conductor in Mississippi were all denied light duty for their pregnancies. A pregnant retail worker in New York fainted and collapsed at work because her boss wouldn’t let her drink water at the cash register.

    So many of the women we talk to are shocked to learn that pregnant women are not protected in these types of situations. They are devastated and feel like second-class citizens. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will ensure that pregnant women are not treated worse than other workers with temporary limitations—as Congress intended when it passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act over thirty years ago.

    Click here to read all of the stories. To share your story, email: egedmark@abetterbalance.org.

    *Names have been changed.

    Cross-posted from A Better Balance’s Blog.

    About A Better Balance: A Better Balance is a national legal advocacy organization dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace and helping workers meet the conflicting demands of work and family.  Through legislative advocacy, litigation, research, public education and technical assistance to state and local campaigns, A Better Balance is committed to helping workers care for their families without risking their economic security.

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