|Photo Credit: Pat Pilon|
When I saw the headlines recently about Kate Middleton being rushed to the hospital for treatment of hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe pregnancy-related complication, I immediately thought of my mother.
When I was three and my mom was pregnant with my brother, she was very sick. I was too young to really understand it, but I did know that she was throwing up nonstop and that every day a woman came to give her an I.V. What she was suffering from was more than morning sickness: it was hyperemesis. The I.V. my mother got prevented her from becoming too dehydrated or malnourished while her body literally could not keep down any food, and she was on bedrest for months.
Although we didn’t have the same resources available to Kate Middleton, whose hyperemesis is currently making international news, my mother was still luckier than many women who are diagnosed with this condition. She worked at a medical school library, and her supervisors accommodated her need for leave and gave her a reduced schedule once she was able to return to work. Women like Saonarah Jeudy have not been so lucky.
Jeudy was working as a prison guard when she became pregnant. Not only did she suffer from hyperemesis, she also had painful fibroid tumors. She asked her supervisors if she could work the night shift at the prison; the hours were quieter and would allow her to get to the restroom more easily to vomit when necessary. Her supervisors refused to accommodate her even after she gave them a note from her doctor, and eventually terminated her. Far from the international outpouring of sympathy that Middleton received, Jeudy couldn’t even get a simple shift change.
Jeudy’s experiences in the workplace were bad enough, but when she sought relief in court, the court denied her claim. While Ms. Jeudy should have been entitled to an accommodation under both the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, time and time again, courts have decided cases like Ms. Jeudy’s against pregnant workers.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would close the loophole that courts have opened up in existing law and make unmistakably clear that pregnant workers are entitled to reasonable accommodations for pregnancy-related conditions, similar to the accommodations available to workers with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. These accommodations range from allowing pregnant workers to carry water bottles and take more frequent bathroom breaks, to providing a stool for employees who are typically on their feet during long shifts, to accommodating lifting restrictions and requests for schedule changes. Women who are most in need of these accommodations are women in low-wage, physically demanding jobs — the types of jobs that are least likely to offer flexibility to their workers. They are disproportionately women of color and low-income, and when they are forced out onto unpaid leave, they lose critical income they need for their growing families.
Saonarah Jeudy – and my mother, and even Kate Middleton – shouldn’t have to depend on luck, or their place in society to get workplace accommodations during pregnancy. Laws like the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would guarantee that pregnant workers’ rights are protected, whether or not they are the future Queen of England.
Have you been treated unfairly at work while pregnant? Please tell us about it.