Congressman Nadler Floor Statement for H.R. 1065, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
Washington, May 14, 2021
Washington, D.C. — Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following statement on the House floor in support of a bill he authored, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 1065), which would guarantee workplace protections to pregnant workers and provide relief to pregnant workers to whom said protections are not provided:
"For as long as women have been in the workforce, they have faced discrimination because of their sex, which is only amplified when a woman is pregnant. Pregnant workers are often passed over for promotions, forced out on leave whether paid or unpaid, and sometimes even fired. As we have seen time and again, these policies disproportionately impact women of color and low-wage, hourly workers.
"We all agree that pregnancy is not a disability, but sometimes pregnant workers need an easy fix such as a stool or an extra bathroom break to stay on the job. These accommodations are short in duration and typically cost very little to provide, but they can mean the difference between keeping your job or putting your pregnancy at risk.
"Given the low cost of these accommodations, we must ask why so many employers are unwilling to provide them and keep their pregnant workers employed. The answer, unfortunately, is that for many employers a pregnant employee embodies negative gender stereotypes regarding motherhood and pregnancy. Society still expects women to conform to stereotypical notions that to be a good parent you must choose between pregnancy and work.
"This harmful stereotype puts working women in an impossible position of having to choose between their family’s health and financial wellbeing. While pregnancy may create some known physical limitations, this choice between work and pregnancy is a fallacy and can be remedied with a reasonable accommodation. Despite repeated attempts by Congress over the years to address this persistent gender discrimination, many employers still view pregnancy and work as incompatible.
"Current law continues to allow employers to simply force most pregnant workers out on leave rather than even considering providing an accommodation. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does require employers to accommodate a pregnant worker if her work limitations rise to the level of disability impacting one or more major life functions. Women who have limitations that do not rise to this level are not protected under the ADA, which was not designed to address pregnancy related gender discrimination.
"Furthermore, courts have hamstrung other attempts by Congress to address pregnancy related gender discrimination. Courts have interpreted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to only require employers to provide an accommodation if they also accommodate non-pregnant employees similar in their ability or inability to work and employed in similar working conditions. In order to prove discrimination, pregnant women must have perfect and complete employment and medical histories for every other employee in their workplace. It is nearly impossible for employees to have that information, as evidenced by the fact that in over 2/3 of cases, courts have sided with employers who denied a pregnant worker accommodation.
"Current law lets women fall through the cracks in every sector of our economy, including the public sector. Take, for example, the story of Devyn Williams, a correctional officer trainee with the Alabama Department of Corrections. From the moment Ms. Williams told her employer she was pregnant, they started a campaign to fire her. When she presented a note from her doctor requesting to be excused from a monthly physical training session during her pregnancy, the state fired her. Her employer actually wrote an email stating that her doctor’s note gave them grounds to dismiss Ms. Williams. Even with that email in her possession, Ms. Williams is still litigating her case five years later. No one should have to go to federal court to get a simple accommodation to safely stay on the job while pregnant.
"The bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act before us today will close this gap in the law and create an affirmative right to accommodation for all pregnant workers. Using the familiar language of the ADA as a framework, the bill requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers as long as the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer.
"Courts know exactly how to interpret that language. Employers know exactly what their responsibilities will be. But most importantly, women will have the certainty they can safely stay on the job. That is why 30 states have passed pregnancy accommodation laws similar to the PWFA and over 200 business, civil rights, health, and labor organizations support the bill. I ask unanimous consent to submit letters of support from two of those organizations – A Better Balance and the National Women’s Law Center – for the record.
"That is also why last Congress, the House passed identical legislation with an overwhelming bipartisan vote. But as the economy reopens, the problem persists. The House must act again to pass this bill, and the Senate must take it up.
"Providing reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers helps businesses, workers, and families. Passing this bill is long overdue – and I thank my friend and fellow New Yorker Mr. Katko for working with his conference on this bill and Chairman Scott, Chair Bonamici, Eunice Ikene and the Education and Labor Committee staff for shepherding the bill to the floor today.
"Thank you. I yield back my time and urge a yes vote."
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