National Partnership for Women & Families

New Study Documents Sharp Rise in Pregnancy Discrimination Complaints Driven by Discrimination Against Women of Color

Sobering News as 30th Anniversary of Pregnancy Discrimination Act Approaches
Washington, D.C. — October 29, 2008 —
In 2007, working women in the United States filed 65 percent more complaints of pregnancy discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) than they filed in 1992.  A sampling of these claims found that complaints filed by women of color and those working in industries dominated by female workers fueled much of this sharp increase.  Those are key findings from a new study released today by the National Partnership for Women & Families at a symposium to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), enacted on October 31, 1978.  The PDA outlaws employment discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. 

The new study finds that race and ethnicity appear to be playing a significant role in the rise of pregnancy discrimination complaints.  During the discrete period from FY1996 to FY2005, claims filed by women of color jumped 76 percent, while claims overall increased by 25 percent.  During that time, complaints filed by Black women increased by 45 percent, by Hispanic women by 135 percent, by Asian/Pacific Islander women by 90 percent, and by American Indian/Alaska Native women by 109 percent.  More than half the claims filed with the EEOC during that period (53 percent) were filed in service, retail trade and the financial services, insurance and real estate industries — where some seven in ten women work. 

“It is truly sobering that, 30 years after our nation outlawed discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, so many women are forced to file complaints with the EEOC,” said National Partnership for Women & Families President Debra L. Ness.  “We are especially concerned that so many women of color face pregnancy discrimination, and that employers in industries dominated by women workers are not obeying the law.  Negative stereotypes about women, particularly pregnant women, clearly persist.  We must strengthen enforcement of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to make real the promise of equal opportunity in this country.”

The new study finds that, from FY1996 to FY2005, 38 states recorded an increase in pregnancy discrimination charges filed with the EEOC.  Thirteen states (Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Vermont and Washington) and Puerto Rico saw increases of more than 50 percent in claims during this period. 

“The increase in complaints about pregnancy discrimination far outpaced the increase in women in the workforce during this time period,” said National Partnership General Counsel Jocelyn Frye, who authored the report.  “Because many women who face pregnancy discrimination are reluctant to file charges with the EEOC, the problem may be even more widespread than these figures suggest.”

The new report includes recommendations to help employers, employees and the EEOC itself confront the increase in pregnancy discrimination charges and begin reversing the upward trend.  They include:

  • Undertake a nationwide campaign to strengthen federal enforcement and public education efforts, including:
    • A convening of experts by the EEOC to explore effective litigation and investigation strategies;
    • An emphasis on maximizing the impact of agency enforcement efforts, for example, through more systemic or other high-profile cases, or increasing capacity to pursue more cases;
    • Extensive outreach to employers and employees to educate them on what the law requires;
    • Wide dissemination of materials informing workers about protections against pregnancy discrimination, and model antidiscrimination policies for employers; and
    • Improving the clarity of the agency’s charge filing forms and other materials to ensure potential claimants understand they can file charges alleging pregnancy discrimination.
  • Target selected industries or occupations for enforcement and outreach. 
  • Publish comprehensive and regular breakdowns and analyses of all pregnancy discrimination charge data by race, ethnicity, industry, occupation, and any other relevant factors.
  • Explore new investigation and research strategies to help identify discriminatory practices and trends.
  • Work with states to develop statewide enforcement initiatives that include educating the public about the law and about state laws providing stronger protections.

Today’s symposium was co-hosted by the National Partnership and the EEOC, and featured a keynote address by Georgetown University Law Professor Wendy Williams.  It included two panel discussions.  The first, “Pregnancy Discrimination Today: A Discussion of Recent Trends,” was moderated by Kevin Russell, Partner at Howe & Russell, P.C. and featured  National Partnership for Women & Families General Counsel Jocelyn Frye, the EEOC’s Elizabeth Grossman and George Mason University’s Eden King.   The second panel, “A Glimpse into the Future: Pregnancy Discrimination Issues on the Horizon,” was moderated by Carolyn Wheeler, Assistant General Counsel, Appellate Services Division, Office of General Counsel, EEOC.  It featured: D.C. Employment Justice Center Executive Director Melvina Ford; Project on Attorney Retention Co-Director Cynthia Calvert; Corporate Voices for Working Families CEO Donna Klein; and Jocelyn Samuels, Vice President for Education and Employment Opportunities, National Women’s Law Center.

To conduct the study, the National Partnership for Women & Families analyzed the most recent pregnancy discrimination charge data, as well as detailed pregnancy discrimination charge data from a ten-year period FY1996 to FY2005.  The EEOC provided the information.  National Partnership experts also reviewed recent demographic data on women’s labor force participation and childbearing trends, and data about stereotypes and attitudes confronting pregnant women on the job. 

Click here to read the report.

Contact

Cindy Romero (202) 986-2600 cromero@nationalpartnership.org

The National Partnership for Women & Families is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, access to quality health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family. More information is available at www.NationalPartnership.org.

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