The current presidential campaign has brought attention to the "war on women" and the "war on moms," with both Republicans and Democrats speaking out on the need to recognize and value the work mothers do in raising their children. Attention to this question is long overdue, and it is critical that we evaluate why our society has devalued the unpaid domestic labor women perform. However, what is missing from this political debate is the fact that the work of many mothers and pregnant women is undervalued in all the work they do, and often have to do, in addition to raising their children. Discrimination against mothers, pregnant women and girls in employment and education is rampant, and it has especially adverse effects on lower-income and minority women and girls.
Pregnant women in the United States are frequently forced out of their jobs, and, appallingly, some courts have been letting employers get away with this, ignoring federal law. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 guarantees that if an employer offers any other class of temporarily disabled workers a benefit or accommodation, such as light duty assignments, pregnant workers must be given the same treatment. And yet Peggy Young, a driver for UPS, was put on unpaid leave with no medical coverage when she asked her employer for a light duty assignment after her doctor recommended that she not lift more than 20 pounds. The trial court ruled for UPS, even though UPS provided light duty assignments to many nonpregnant workers who were temporarily unable to perform their regular duties. In March, the ACLU Women's Rights Project and the ACLU of Maryland, along with numerous other civil rights organizations, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Peggy Young's case, urging the court to rule in line with federal law. It is essential that pregnant workers do not get forced out of the workplace just at the time when they most need economic security and health benefits.
It's not just in the area of employment that mothers face discrimination; pregnant and parenting teens also face many obstacles in completing their education. Pregnancy is the No.1 reason girls drop out of school. Schools contribute to these statistics by illegally pressuring, coercing and sometimes forcing pregnant and parenting students to drop out. This violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the landmark civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities. Under Title IX, a school may not pressure or force a pregnant student to leave her current school, transfer to an alternative school, a special school for pregnant students or a GED program. Furthermore, a pregnant student cannot be excluded from classes or extracurricular activities, including sports teams. However, schools continue to ignore the mandate of Title IX. In March, the ACLU and the ACLU of New Mexico filed a lawsuit against a New Mexico middle school that initially expelled a pregnant student, Shantelle Hicks, and then publicly humiliated her by announcing her pregnancy to the entire school at an assembly.
What's more, almost entirely absent from the public debate is the critical need to improve pay and working conditions for domestic and childcare workers — predominantly low-wage, immigrant women — who make many other women's workforce participation possible.
Moms deserve more. They need employers, schools and the courts to abide by and uphold the laws and policies that prohibit discrimination against mothers and pregnant women and girls trying to support their families. This Mother's Day, we need to work towards a country where women's work is truly respected and valued both inside and outside of the home.