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New City Bill Would Bar Discrimination Against Pregnant Women – And Their Partners

Ariel Worthy
Councilor Erika Strassburger introduced legislation to protect pregnant women and their partners in places of employment.

Pittsburgh City Councilor Erika Strassburger introduced legislation on Tuesday that would prohibit discrimination against pregnant women. 

It would also protect those seeking to become pregnant and their partners before, during and after childbirth.

The legislation expands on anti-discrimination rules already in the city code. It requires employers to provide reasonable modifications to employees' workspaces, and to offer flexibility in scheduling to allow employees and their partners to attend procedures, tests, and other appointments associated with pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions.

At a Tuesday morning press conference, Strassburger said her predecessor, former councilor Dan Gilman, originally drafted legislation to protect pregnant women from workplace discrimination. She said her new legislation expands on that.

"Since then, looking at other cities and other states, we've realized by defining pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions ... it would be even more explicit and expansive in our definition," Strassburger said. "That would, therefore, help pregnant workers to fully understand their rights, and employers to better understand their responsibilities."

Megan Stanley, deputy director with the city's Commission on Human Relations, helped draft the new ordinance. Stanley said the legislation also protects women and families who have endured stillbirths and miscarriages.

"Not just the mother, but the partner, as well, may need some time off for that to deal with that," she said.

She said it's important to acknowledge the toll it can take on everyone involved.

"We recognize that it's not just something that happens to the mother," she said. "We want employers to recognize that as well."

Stanley added that the new rules do not require employers to give everyone paid leave and paid time off, "but do allow it if somebody asks for that accommodation."

University of Pittsburgh law professor Sue Frietsche said a lot of the discrimination against pregnant women comes from a stereotypical "belief that if a woman has a family she will never be truly devoted to her job."

"Interestingly those same stereotypes don't attach to men who have families. In fact, it's the opposite," Frietsche said. "The stereotype there is that if a man has a family he'll be more attached to his job."

Fritsche said sometimes discrimination is blatant -- as when women aren't hired because they are pregnant. But other times, she said, it can take the form of "little things that don't disadvantage or burden the employer at all. Like just being able to have access to drinking water, more frequent bathroom breaks, help lifting heavy objects, access to a chair to sit down on during your shift."

Federal laws prohibit discrimination against pregnancy, it doesn't require employers to provide these accommodations unless it can be shown that a nonpregnant worker with similar physical limitation was given the accommodation and the pregnant worker was not, Frietsche explained.

Council will take up the measure next month.