When was the Pregnancy Discrimination Act passed

The Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2018, which passed through NSW Parliament this week, introduces welcome employment protections for pregnant women, according to Kingsford Legal Centre Director Anna Cody.

“Women, including pregnant women, make a valuable contribution to the workforce and should not face discrimination at work on the basis of pregnancy,” Ms Cody said.

“The Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) contained exemptions that allowed employers to not hire or dismiss women if they were pregnant at the time they applied, interviewed or were hired for a job.

“These exemptions permitted discrimination against pregnant women, were outdated, and the NSW Attorney General deserves praise for removing them.

“These amendments are a positive step to meet our obligations under international human rights law to promote equality and non-discrimination, bringing NSW anti-discrimination law in line with the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and laws in other states and territories.

“Sadly, pregnancy and family responsibilities discrimination remains prevalent in Australia, with one in two mothers experiencing discrimination at work during pregnancy, parental leave or return to work.

“Community legal centres provide valuable assistance to people and communities across NSW at times when they need it most. This is particularly true when people are facing economic hardship or discrimination,” Ms Cody said.

Media contact: Anna Cody, 0431 636 594

More information: Australian Human Rights Commission, Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review (2014)

views updated May 23 2018

Ruth Colker

In 1978 Congress amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to enact the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) (P.L. 95-555, 92 Stat. 2076). This act was passed to reverse the Supreme Court's decision in General Electric Company v. Gilbert (1976) in which the Supreme Court held that Title VII's prohibition against "sex" discrimination does not include a ban on pregnancy-based discrimination. Title VII generally bans sex discrimination in employment. By amending Title VII, Congress extended that prohibition to include pregnancy-based discrimination. In Gilbert, the Supreme Court held that General Electric's disability plan did not discriminate against women in violation of Title VII when it provided coverage for virtually all nonoccupational illnesses and accidents except pregnancy. Quoting analysis that it had used in a previous constitutional law decision, the Supreme Court explained that General Electric's plan did not constitute sex discrimination because "the program divides potential recipients into two groupspregnant women and nonpregnant persons. While the first group is exclusively female, the second includes members of both sexes" (Geduldig vs. Aiello [1974]).

Congress passed the PDA to reverse the holding in Gilbert, but in doing so Congress went well beyond the fact pattern presented in the Gilbert case. It provided broad antidiscrimination protection to pregnant women, not simply disability-plan protection. The mechanism chosen by Congress to achieve this objective was to amend Title VII's definition of "sex" discrimination to include pregnancy-based discrimination. It defined the term "because of sex" to include discrimination "on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions." It required that "women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefits programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work."

Congress's intention to provide broad protection to women on the basis of pregnancy is reflected in the act's legislative history. Representative Augustus Hawkins, Democrat of California, introduced the act on the floor of the House, making it clear that the purpose of the act was to ban broadly discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. The Senate Committee on Human Resources and the House Committee on Education and Labor authored strong reports supporting a broad interpretation of the act. Despite the considerable support for the PDA within Congress, the courts were soon faced with difficult questions of interpretation under the act.

First, the courts had to determine whether men could bring a cause of action under the statute if pregnancy hospitalization benefits were not available to their spouses under the employer's health care policy (while all other conditions were covered). In a 72 decision, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the Court's opinion in which he concluded that the act does provide a cause of action for male workers in that situation. Finding that Congress had disavowed the Court's earlier decision in Gilbert, the Supreme Court held that sex discrimination, as defined by Congress, did include pregnancy-based discrimination that creates economic harm for a male employee by providing him with a less favorable insurance policy than provided to employees without pregnant spouses. While the language of the act did not specifically address this problem, Justice Stevens concluded that coverage of that situation was wholly consistent with Congress's intentions when it enacted the PDA.

Second, the courts were faced with the question of whether the PDA created a cause of action to challenge a state statute that provided pregnant employees with more favorable disability protection than other employees. InCalifornia Federal Savings & Loan Association vs. Guerra (1987), Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote a 63 majority opinion for the Court holding that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not bar employment practices favoring pregnant women.

The Supreme Court has continued to interpret the PDA broadly. In 1991 it ruled in UAW v. Johnson Controls that an employer could not refuse to employ women who were of childbearing age because of potential hazards to a fetus that might result from exposure to chemicals in the workplace.

Although the PDA has been important in extending equality to pregnant women in the workplace, it does not require employers to provide any particular length of leave for pregnant workers. Congress took that important step in 1993 when it enacted the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Female employees who have worked for their employer for at least a year are now guaranteed six weeks of unpaid pregnancy leave upon the birth or adoption of a child.

The combination of the PDA and FMLA provides pregnant women with stronger job protection than at any time in our nation's history. Many women desire Congress to go further and guarantee paid leave to pregnant workers. Still others assert that they continue to face subtle forms of pregnancybased discrimination that are difficult to prove in a court of law. Nonetheless, gone are the days when an employer may lawfully insist that a woman quit her job upon learning that she is pregnant, and because of the PDA and associated rulings, women do have legal redress available when overt acts of pregnancy-based discrimination occur.

See also: Civil Rights Act of 1964; Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993; Title IX, Education Amendments.

views updated May 29 2018

PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION ACT (PDA), a 1978 amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. The impetus for the act was a 1976 Supreme Court decision, General Electric v. Gilbert, in which the Court held that denial of benefits for pregnancy-related disability was not discrimination based on sex. This holding echoed past management decisions by which married women faced job discrimination and pregnant women were routinely fired. By 1977, women made up more than 45 percent of the labor force, but only one-quarter had insurance plans that allowed sick leave for pregnancy-related illness. Reaction to the Gilbert decision was swift. Women's organizations, feminists, labor and civil rights advocates, and some right-to-life groups formed a coalition known as the Campaign to End Discrimination Against Pregnant Workers to seek legislative relief from the Court's decision. Legislation to amend Title VII and overturn Gilbert was introduced in Congress in 1977 and passed, as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, one year later.

The PDA prohibits discrimination against pregnant women in all areas of employment, including hiring, firing, seniority rights, job security, and receipt of fringe benefits. The most controversial features of the bill have been those requiring employers who offer health insurance and temporary disability plans to give coverage to women for pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions. Although by 1977 many major corporations were already providing such benefits, business associations argued that pregnancy was a "voluntary condition," not an illness, and that the bill would raise insurance costs. The PDA does not, however, require employers who do not offer health insurance or disability benefits at all to adopt such plans, and Title VII applies only to employers with fifteen or more employees. These provisions leave many female workers unprotected by the act.

Although all major feminist organizations supported the 1978 amendment to Title VII, feminists in 2002 remained divided on how to apply the act. At issue was the language in the act that says employers cannot treat pregnancy "more or less" favorably than other disabilities. Some feminists argued that gender equality requires identical treatment of women and men without regard to pregnancy. This "equal treatment" group said that the PDA prohibits treatment of pregnant workers in a way that favors them over workers with other kinds of temporary disabilities. Other feminists argued that the only way to ensure equal opportunity for women is through pregnancy-specific benefits ensuring that pregnant women are not disadvantaged because of real biological difference from men. This "special treatment" group said that the PDA permits justifiably favorable treatment of pregnant workers.

Some states have enacted legislation that gives pregnant women benefits not available to other workers. The Supreme Court upheld one such statute in California Federal Savings and Loan Association v. Guerra (1987). In that case, the Court held that the California statute requiring unpaid maternity leave and guaranteed job reinstatement was not preempted by the PDA, because the purposes of the state law were not inconsistent with those of the PDA or Title VII.


Gelb, Joyce, and Marian Lief Palley. Women and Public Policies. 2d ed., rev. and exp. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987. Rev. ed., Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996.

Hoff, Joan. Law, Gender, and Injustice: A Legal History of U.S. Women. New York: New York University Press, 1991.

Vogel, Lise. Mothers on the Job: Maternity Policy in the U.S. Workplace. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1993.

Weisberg, D. Kelly, ed. Feminist Legal Theory: Foundations. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993.

Graham RussellHodges/c. p.

See alsoAutomobile Workers v. Johnson Controls, Inc. ; Family and Medical Leave Act ; General Electric Company v. Gilbert ; Women's Equity Action League ; Women's Rights Movement: The Twentieth Century .

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