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Victory for New York Women: Governor Andrew Cuomo Advances Equality for Pregnant Workers

Pregnant woman
Pregnant woman
Mariko Hirose,
Staff Attorney,
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October 22, 2015

Over the years the New York Civil Liberties Union and ACLU have heard countless stories from pregnant workers across New York who were forced on unpaid leave during their pregnancies, even though they were willing and able to continue working if their employers would offer them simple accommodations. Yesterday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a set of bills aimed at removing barriers that perpetuate discrimination against women ­­– including one bill that makes clear that this kind of behavior is pregnancy discrimination plain and simple.

One woman who would have benefited from this law is Julie DeSantis-Mayer. In 2013, the NYCLU and ACLU represented Desantis-Mayer in her charge before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Desantis-Mayer had been a fulltime UPS driver who had worked for the company for 10 years when she became pregnant. Instead of granting her requests for temporary light-duty assignments, as UPS did with workers who were injured on the job, the company forced her to take unpaid leave. This left Desantis-Mayer without a salary and medical benefits just as she and her husband were preparing to start their family.

The pregnancy accommodation bill signed into law in New York today ensures that Desantis-Mayer and others in her position will no longer be forced to choose between a healthy pregnancy and a job when reasonable accommodations are available. Under this law, an employer must make reasonable accommodations for a pregnant worker who presents a doctor’s note prescribing certain precautions for maintaining a healthy pregnancy – such as lifting limits, more frequent bathroom breaks, or increased access to water – instead of forcing her to take unpaid and unwanted leave. A year and a half after her daughter’s birth, and six months after UPS changed its policy and settled her charge, Desantis-Mayer said she is pleased about the new law and hopes that things will be better for the next generation of women who want to continue working while pregnant.

Gender diversity in the workplace requires employers to be willing to support the basic needs of their female workers – including their decision to start a family. With this law, New York joins the 17 states and the District of Columbia that have taken this important step forward to support working women and their families.

New York still has a ways to go on women’s equality. While the state made progress today preventing discrimination against pregnant workers, it still does not have paid family leave. So once they have given birth, too many new working mothers in the state are forced to choose between caring for their newborn and paying their bills. And our state still needs laws that ensure women have access to reproductive health care services and maintain the right to have an abortion.

But New York’s pregnancy accommodation laws are a significant first step – and they set the stage for future reforms. Laws like this need to be adopted across the country – including, at the federal level, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. All pregnant workers, regardless of where they live, deserve the same fair treatment at work.

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