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Saturday, January 3, 2015

Illinois new Law increases protection for Pregnant Women in the Workplace

thanks to Mary S. for sharing; while pregnancy alone is not a disability, as explained in the article there is protection under the ADA due to certain conditions while being pregnant.

The Gate News | By: Sonya Eldridge | Jan 2, 2015

Women in the 21st century workforce continue to grapple with unequal treatment in the workplace as they strive to raise families while working to move up their respective career ladders.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education for terminating employment of two pregnant teachers.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the lawsuit was filed after Jane Bushue and Jennifer Morris from Scammon Elementary School reported charges of sex discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The Department of Justice alleges that the pregnant teachers received lower performance evaluations, disciplinary action and were threatened with termination. In eight cases over the course of five years, pregnant teachers were either fired or forced to leave by Scammon Elementary School Principal Mary Weaver and the Chicago Board of Education, according to the lawsuit.

The EEOC found “reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred” at the Northwest Side elementary school. The complaint also alleged that Weaver targeted every teacher who became pregnant for termination.

“No woman should have to make a choice between her job and having a family,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

On the first day of the New Year, expecting and new mothers in Illinois will receive some protection from workplace discrimination under a new state law.

Sponsored by State Rep. Mary E. Flowers (D-Chicago) and State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights), the General Assembly passed amendments to the Illinois Human Rights Act in August 2014 to prohibit discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or any related conditions.

Illinois employers are now required to make “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant employees which might include more frequent or longer bathroom breaks, limits on heavy lifting and assistance in manual labor; access to places to sit; time off to recover from childbirth; and private space for breast-feeding and expressing breast milk—accommodations that could prevent pregnant women from being fired due to their condition.

Employers who fail to provide reasonable accommodations may face an investigation which could lead to a civil rights violation charge.

In the introductory language of the new amendment, state legislators called the change vital to the economic security of women and their families, but also beneficial to employers who will experience increased worker retention and morale along with decreased re-training costs for new employees.

According to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), reasonable accommodations are particularly important to pregnant women employed in physically demanding jobs that require long and irregular work schedules, heavy lifting, prolonged standing or high levels of physical activity, all of which could lead to an increased risk of preterm delivery and low birth weight.

In the U.S., more than half of employed African-American married women and 40 percent of employed Latina married women are primary breadwinners or earn the same as or more than their husbands annually, according to a report by the NWLC. African-American and Latina women are also more likely than white women to be single parents and the sole breadwinners in their families according to the same study.

Currently, three federal laws afford protection for pregnant workers under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), pregnancy alone is not considered a disability, but “pregnancy-related impairments” can be classified as disabilities if they infringe upon major life activities like walking, lifting or digesting food. In 2008, the ADA Amendments Act was passed to expand the ADA’s definition of disability to include even less severe or temporary impairments like nausea or cramping.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers who provide accommodations to workers with temporary disabilities to provide the same accommodations to pregnant workers.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives employees up to 12 weeks of protected, unpaid leave to care for a new child if their employer has 50 or more employees and they have worked at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months. The federal law also grants employees the right to take unpaid medical leave if the employee has a “serious health condition” (which includes pregnancy or prenatal care) that prevents the employee from performing the functions of his or her position.

In the case of the pregnant Chicago teachers, the DOJ alleges the terminations and disciplinary actions violated the Civil Rights Act which specifically prohibits employers from discriminating against female employees due to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

The DOJ has requested a judge impose a court order requiring the Chicago Board of Education to establish policies to halt discrimination against pregnant teachers in addition to providing compensation to those who were harmed by the alleged discrimination.

For more information or for those seeking assistance under the new law, contact the Illinois Department of Human Rights at 312-814-6200 (Chicago), 217-785-5100 (Springfield), or 866-740-3953 (TTY).


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