HR News & Trends, Legal Issues

EEOC Turns Focus to Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace

eeoc

By Eric B. Meyer

My loyal readers know that yesterday the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held a public meeting to discuss pregnancy discrimination and caregiver issues.

Ah, yes, pregnancy discrimination. Here’s a summary of what happened at yesterday’s EEOC meeting.

Overall, 10 people spoke at yesterday’s EEOC meeting, ranging from doctors, to professors, to government employees, and finally, the lawyers.

You can view the transcripts here. And below are some of the meeting highlights, per this EEOC press release:

  • The past 40 years have seen a major increase in the number of women choosing to work while pregnant and during the later stages of pregnancy.
  • Women are now the primary, or co-primary, breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of families.
  • A Commission panelist emphasized that employers “should not make decisions based on stereotypes and presumptions about the competence and commitment of these workers. EEOC will vigorously enforce the anti-discrimination laws as they apply to pregnant women and caregivers.”
  • Another panelist recounted the story of a pregnant worker who was not permitted to alter her uniform due to her pregnancy but forced to take leave when it no longer fit her.
  • A union official noted that while pregnancy and discrimination arising from caregiving impacts all segments of the workforce, low-wage workers are particularly affected.
  • A professor opined that there is a measurable “motherhood wage penalty” of as much as 5 percent per child, controlling for education, experience, and other factors known to affect wages.
  • One VP of Human Resources who spoke, commented that even employers that want to provide the maximum flexibility possible within the constraints of their businesses have trouble reconciling the requirements of the various laws affecting caregiving. She called for greater clarity and interagency coordination to help employers comply with the law, and implement best practices for work-life balance.

Although no one spoke yesterday about the recent Texas federal court decision in which the court held that “firing someone because of lactation or breast-pumping is not sex discrimination,” I would be surprised if the EEOC fails to appeal that to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Eric Meyer will be leading a group of HR pros in a panel discussion on Social Media in the Workplace – Where is it Today, Where is it Going Tomorrow? at the TLNT Transform conference in Austin, TX Feb. 26-28, 2012. Click here for more information on this event. 

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

Eric B. Meyer is a partner in the Labor and Employment Group of the Philadelphia-based law firm of Dilworth Paxson LLP . He dedicates his practice to litigating and assisting employers on labor and employment issues affecting the workplace, including collective bargaining, discrimination, employee handbook policies, enforcement of restrictive covenants, and trade secret protection. Eric also serves as a volunteer mediator for the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Contact him at emeyer@dilworthlaw.com .