Following a new national report revealing that pregnant women face significant barriers in the workplace, the City of Philadelphia passed new legislation that will improve workplace conditions for pregnant employees. The new amendment to the City’s Fair Practices Ordinance prohibits pregnancy-related discrimination and requires employers to provide reasonable workplace accommodations for employees who have needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. The ordinance extends protections beyond those in the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. It became effective January 20, 2014.
The Women’s Law Project, PathWays, and the Maternity Care Coalition testified to the city council in support of the bill, as did Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, the agency responsible for enforcing the ordinance. Landau noted that the majority of Philadelphia children—53 percent—are raised by one parent, most often a woman. “Very simply put,” she said, “women cannot afford to lose their jobs or income due to pregnancy or childbirth.” She told the council about some women she has met through her agency that could have benefited from this amendment, among them a waitress dealing with morning sickness who was fired for frequent trips to the bathroom and a nurse who was fired after requesting an extended leave of absence in the wake of a diagnosis of a condition that required rest.
Under the new law, discrimination on the basis of “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition” is specifically defined as a form of sex discrimination. In addition, the ordinance defines the failure to provide reasonable accommodation as an unlawful employment practice. Typical accommodations include restroom breaks, periodic rest for those who stand for long periods of time, assistance with manual labor, leave for a period of disability arising from childbirth, reassignment to a vacant position, and job restructuring.
Aggrieved employees may seek injunctive and other equitable relief, as well as compensatory damages, punitive damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.
In the state legislature, the new Women’s Health Caucus recently announced bills that would provide similar protections in both the House and Senate. Pennsylvania workers file more pregnancy discrimination charges than in more than 40 other States, yet Pennsylvania law currently offers few protections against pregnancy-related discrimination.