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Woman Becomes Homeless After Employer Allegedly Fired Her Over Her Pregnancy

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Bryce CovertBetzaida Cruz Cardona is 32-weeks pregnant, unemployed, and homeless. But just a few months ago, she had a job she was willing and able to do that paid her rent.

Cruz had been a cashier at a Henrietta, New York, Savers since April of 2014 when she got pregnant and visited the doctor frequently for complications. At one visit, her doctor gave her a note saying that she shouldn’t lift more than 25 pounds. But since her job simply required that work at a cash register, she didn’t expect it to interfere with her work.

A half an hour after she handed in that doctor’s note and told her manager she still wanted to keep working, she says she was fired without any explanation except that the corporate human resources department told her manager to do so and she should “stay home and take care of [her] pregnancy.” She wasn’t told it was to do with any disciplinary issues or the days off she had taken to visit the doctor, given that they were excused.

A spokeswoman for the company said its policy is not to comment on specific employment matters, but added, “we have not, do not, and will not tolerate discrimination of any type, including pregnancy discrimination, toward our valued employees.”

Cruz told ThinkProgress “everything basically went bad” after she was fired. “My family, we didn’t have enough money to pay everything. It was just arguments and fights [with her boyfriend] because I had lost my job. So I lost my apartment, I lost everything.”

She’s since has been moving “from house to house to house to house.” Moving around so much while pregnant is “extremely hard because it’s not comfortable,” she said. “It’s stressful, depressing.”

Cruz is now suing Savers with the help of lawyers from A Better Balance and Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP (ECBA). Her lawyers say the company violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which bans employment discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, given the timing of her termination and the comment that she should stay home, which is “evidence of discriminatory intent,” explained Dina Bakst of A Better Balance. It also violated the PDA by refusing to give her an accommodation so she could keep working, which her lawyers say was given to a different worker with carpal tunnel syndrome. But while the case is about accommodation, “it’s even more so a case of outright discrimination against pregnant people,” said Elizabeth Saylor of ECBA, given that she didn’t need to lift objects to continue doing her job.

Since she had a condition related to her pregnancy that limited her activity, her lawyers say she was also covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The lawyers are also charging the company with a pattern and practice of discrimination against pregnant women. While the company has an express policy against discriminating against workers with disabilities, “unfortunately they don’t have any policy that we’ve seen or anything in the employment manual relating to not discriminating against pregnant women and providing them with accommodations,” said Saylor.

In response to a request for information about the company’s policies, the Savers spokeswoman said, “Savers makes reasonable accommodations for team members when they have a disability that limits their ability to perform their job.” She said that the policy applies to all workers, including those who are pregnant. Bakst argued, “that’s not what the policy says, and that’s not how the policy was applied to Ms. Cruz.”

Cruz’s lawyers also point to the involvement of the corporate human resources department of a sign that Cruz’s firing wasn’t the work of a rogue manager. “One of our express goals is for Savers to adopt a new policy that clearly states it will not discriminate against pregnant employees,” Saylor added.

To add insult to injury, Cruz says that the company claimed she had voluntarily quit for medical reasons on her termination paperwork, which made it very difficult to get unemployment insurance. She filed for the benefits in early September but didn’t start receiving them until January. And while her boyfriend has helped her out financially, her family doesn’t have the resources to help.

“I tried to get a job, but since I’m pregnant it really has been hard,” she said. “I’m planning after I have [the baby] on starting to find a job, but first I have to find somebody that can have her while I’m working.”

Had Cruz lived in New York City, instead of further upstate, the whole incident might not have happened. New York City passed a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in 2013, which requires employers to give pregnant workers reasonable accommodations, such as light duty, unless they can prove it would mean an undue burden. “It makes it crystal clear that employers have to affirmatively provide reasonable accommodations to workers with pregnancy-related needs,” Bakst explained. The rest of the state doesn’t have such a law, however; one has been passed in its senate but is still pending. “If there was an unmistakably clear law that informed employers of what their obligations are to accommodate workers, this may not have happened,” she added.

Other states have passed similar laws that cover all of their workers, and a federal bill that would apply to the entire country has been introduced multipletimes in Congress. Yet it has failed to move forward.

In the meantime, Cruz’s experience is unfortunately extremely common. An estimated quarter million women are denied their requests for an accommodation for their pregnancy every year, and many more are afraid to even ask. But 80 percent of first-time mothers work into their last month of pregnancy. A number of other employers are facing lawsuits over pregnancy discrimination, from Walmart to Bloomberg TV.

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on March 2, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media

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Rally Urges Court to End Pregnancy Discrimination

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Image: Mike Hall

No one should have to choose between their job and the health of their pregnancy. Peggy Young was forced to do just that in 2006 when she became pregnant and her employer, UPS, refused to accommodate her with light duty as her doctor recommended. She was forced to take unpaid leave and go without her employer-provided health coverage.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard her case claiming UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. Outside, about 200 of her supporters from women’s groups across the political spectrum rallied in her support.

Moms Rising Executive Director Kristen Rowe-Finkbeiner says:

“Far too many employers are either ignoring or misinterpreting the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which was expressly designed to protect pregnant workers from discrimination and promote their economic security.”

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus writes:

“Peggy Young’s Supreme Court case sounds like a throwback to the “Mad Men” era, when employers weren’t expected—or required—to welcome women in general and pregnant women in particular.”

Young’s story is, says Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, “ unfortunately, not unusual, as reflected in the number of pregnancy discrimination claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.” She adds:

“Women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce and are breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of families….When employers deny equal treatment to these women, they force workers like Peggy Young to make an impossible choice between jeopardizing their families’ financial security and following their doctors’ advice for a healthy pregnancy.”

This blog originally appeared I AFL-CIO.org on December 3, 2014. Reprinted with permission.http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Political-Action-Legislation/Rally-Urges-Court-to-End-Pregnancy-Discrimination

About the author: Mike Hall  is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

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81 Percent Of Moms Without High School Diplomas Also Have No Paid Maternity Leave

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The average American woman who never got her high school diploma makes about $365 a week. That means, if she works every single week from January 1 through December 31, she’ll earn a total of $20,540 a year. But if that woman’s expecting a child, she is going to have to take some time off. And there’s a four in five chance that, here in the United States, she won’t get even a day’s worth of paid maternity leave to deliver her baby or be with her newborn.

The United States is one of the only developed countries that does not offer paid maternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act is supposed to provide protection for expecting mothers, but its stringent requirements exclude a lot of women, particularly low-income, low-education women of color. About half the workforce doesn’t qualify for FMLA.

But even if their jobs do fall under the requirements (they must have worked “for at least 12 months and have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during that time for an employer with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius”), they aren’t guaranteed any income.

A new proposal from the Center for American Progress, however, is trying to remedy that. Its plan for Social Security Cares would require employers to give qualified employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave for certain life events that include “the birth of a newborn or the arrival of a newly adopted or fostered child; The serious illness of a spouse, domestic partner, parent, or child; The worker’s own serious illness that limits his or her ability to work.”

Women are growing to be a larger and larger percentage of the primary breadwinners in their homes. But for many, the joy of motherhood evaporates into a panic of trying make ends meet.

Paid maternity leave is a societal investment that would ultimately benefit everyone, including employers. Offering paid maternity leave allows employees to stay at their jobs who would otherwise be forced to quit, lowering training and start-up costs for employers. It also allows employers to recruit the best person for the job without the employee having to consider leave policy. When such a policy was implemented in California, 99 percent of employers found it had either no effect or a positive impact on employee morale; 91 percent said the same about profitability, and 89 percent said the same about productivity.

This article was originally posted on November 2, 2012 at Think Progress. 

About the Author: Annie-Rose Strasser is a Reporter/Blogger for ThinkProgress. Before joining American Progress, she worked for the community organizing non-profit Center for Community Change as a new media specialist. Previously, Annie-Rose served as a press assistant for Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Annie-Rose holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the George Washington University.

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A Bill to Make Employers Less Mean to Pregnant Women

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Whatever our political conflicts, we can generally agree that we should treat pregnant women nicely. We don’t hesitate to help them carry their groceries or give them a seat on the bus. Yet when pregnancy comes up as a political issue, lawmakers are far more fixated on what an expecting mom’s womb is doing, rather than her hands–as she slips the check under your plate and hopes for a decent tip–or her mind–as she loses sleep wondering whether she’ll lose her job as her due date nears.

Under current law, it’s easy for bosses to mistreat pregnant women or force them off the job. Yet the men who run Congress are too busy sponsoring anti-abortion bills and slashing social programs, it seems, to protect pregnant women in the workplace. One of the many labor bills left off the congressional radar is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, (PWFA) which would help prevent pregnant women from being arbitrarily fired and make employers better accommodate them.

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, the PWFA builds on existing anti-discrimination laws by extending specific protections to pregnant employees. The legislation directs employers to “make reasonable accommodations” for an employee or job applicant’s limitations stemming from “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” unless this would pose “undue hardship” on the business. In addition, as the New York Times’ Motherlode explains, the law would bar employers from “using a worker’s pregnancy to deny her opportunities on the job [or] force her to take an accommodation that she does not want or need.” The bill also directs the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to set regulations for implementing these laws, including “a list of exemplary reasonable accommodations.”

It was introduced earlier this year in the House and this month in the Senate–and not surprisingly, faces pretty bleak odds for being enacted.

The bill expands on legislation passed in the 1970s that protects women from discrimination related to pregnancy. Those earlier policies have been interpreted in such a way as to let companies refuse to make reasonable adjustments for pregnant workers. Similarly, federal and state family-and-medical-leave acts protect women from discrimination related to a seeking medical care, including for pregnancy. But many expecting mothers are left unprotected by these measures; the FMLA for example covers only unpaid leave–not the paid leave time that’s essential to protect the health of workers and their families–and generally only workplaces of 50 or more employees.

The PWFA would not shield expectant women from mistreatment altogether. The “undue burden” clause may give employers some leeway, for instance, to refuse to provide accommodations in job duties or schedules for a mom-to-be. Still, the measure would press firms to make sensible modifications for pregnant workers, such as no longer lifting heavy weights.

As with many women’s rights issues, this is also a matter of economic fairness. About 60 percent of women who gave birth in a given year also worked during that time, according to recent data; many moms are primary breadwinners, too. Making workplaces more pregnancy-friendly isn’t about coddling women; it’s about putting pregnancy on par with other medical or physical challenges workers face. Sarah Crawford, director of workplace fairness at the National Partnership, noted in an email to Working In These Times:

The result for working pregnant women is that they are too often forced to quit or take unpaid leave because their employer denies them reasonable accommodations that are lawfully required for other workers with temporary disabilities.

Losing work a double-blow for pregnant women who need to prepare financially for a new member of the household. Even if they’re not outright fired, Crawford points out, “some employers force pregnant workers into unpaid leave prematurely, which means that women are forced to take a heavy financial hit just as they are about to give birth.”

Moreover, if a pregnant woman is unfairly fired, she may have trouble simply getting hired as a new mom, which some employers may see as a liability. (Not to mention affording quality child care so she can hold onto that new job).

The National Partnership also notes major health implications for women who lose a job during pregnancy, and for their babies: The stress incurred may raise “the risk of having a premature baby and/or a baby with low birth weight.” If she can earn more before having the baby, she can potentially take more time off for maternity leave–meaning more time for bonding, breastfeeding and other essential nurturing tasks for parents that our labor structure tends to ignore.

Ironically, companies themselves suffer when they arbitrarily dismiss workers for pregnancy or childbirth-related reasons, because high workforce turnover is counterproductive in the long run.

Yet many workplaces still make women bear the brunt of the cost of childbearing. So next time you graciously offer your bus seat to a pregnant woman, just think about how our politicians fail to stand up for the labor rights of those who do the work of bringing us into the world.

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on September 27, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Michelle Chen work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.

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