Why Suing For Discrimination At Work Often Isn't An Option For Pregnant Women
"It's not a prison," South Dakota state Rep. Wayne H. Steinhauer said while voting down a bill with seven of his fellow male legislators that would have legally required businesses to provide pregnant women with reasonable accommodations while working. He continued: "You can quit." Steinhauer further framed options for women who don't feel their pregnancies are being accommodated at work: "You’ve got a choice every day. You make a choice whether you come to work." But for many women, coming to work isn't such a simple choice. Likewise, suing for discrimination often isn't an option for pregnant women, either. Steinhauer hasn't responded to Romper's request for comment.
While the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is a federal law protecting pregnant women in the workplace, it doesn't specify that employers must make reasonable accommodations for these women. Basically, the PDA only guarantees that pregnant women must be treated the same as any other employee. But if a pregnant woman works a job that requires her to lift up to 50 pounds, you might see how this could be a problem — as women shouldn't lift more than 20 pounds when pregnant.
That's why the South Dakota bill seeking to provide pregnant women with reasonable accommodations for their pregnancies at work would have been so important — and South Dakota would have joined 18 other states and Washington D.C. who have passed similar "pregnant workers fairness acts" into law. But as South Dakota's Rep. Steinhauer seems to believe, jobs are a choice for pregnant women — and in theory, so is the choice to sue for pregnancy discrimination.
Going to court take more than just chutzpah and a clear case: Lawsuits take time and money — two things that if you've ever been pregnant, are things that feel like you're always running out of. In all seriousness, suing employers for pregnancy discrimination isn't a realistic option for some women, especially those who are working low-income jobs. What little money they make must go towards basic living expenses for themselves and their families, as well as other potential costs such as childcare for other children, and maternity and medical care for themselves.
But let's say you do have the money and time, and maybe you even think you have a solid case: Proving pregnancy discrimination in the workplace isn't easy. The Atlantic took a deep dive into why pregnancy discrimination cases can be hard to prove:
In many states, videotaping inappropriate workplace behavior for evidence goes against privacy laws. And unless there's a paper trail clearly indicating harassment or discrimination, the evidence is considered circumstantial ... eyewitnesses are hard to come by because they also work for the company and don’t want to jeopardize their own employment.
In FY 2014, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 3,400 pregnancy discrimination complaints. Of those, only 14 pregnancy-related lawsuits were filed by the EEOC. Those numbers can speak for themselves: If it were really that easy to sue for pregnancy discrimination, there wouldn't be such a wide gap in between complaints and lawsuits.
So yes, Steinhauer and South Dakota: Just because suing for pregnancy discrimination is as much a choice as quitting one's job doesn't mean it's a terribly feasible or financially sound choice. And until pregnant women can receive full protections while at work — including reasonable pregnancy accommodations — we're going to keep being forced into choices we shouldn't have to make in the first place.