Ending Pregnancy Discrimination—It’s What I’ve Always Wanted!

December 15, 2009

On the 218th birthday of our Bill of Rights, our Michigan State Legislature has given us the best birthday gift that we could hope for.

This morning, the Michigan House of Representatives passed, by an overwhelming majority, an amendment to civil rights law that prohibits pregnancy discrimination.

At its core, HB 4327 is about preventing injustice against pregnant women in our work force. The bill incorporates the language from our federal anti-discrimination law into our own state laws. This uniformity is extremely important, as it clearly establishes what employers must do in order to comply with the law.

Critically, employers are not required to afford pregnant women any sort of special treatment with this amendment. Instead, they are simply required to treat pregnant women in exactly the same way as other employees who are similarly situated with respect to their ability to work. For example, some pregnant women may have a weight- lifting restriction that is similar to that of a co-worker with a strained back. Under the new law, an employer can choose any number of solutions to accommodate these employees – she can create modified positions for both, place both on unpaid leave, or split one modified position between the two of them equally. The only thing that matters is that both employees must be treated the same way. This is the very essence of equal protection.

I, for one, am proud that on this Bill of Rights day, our elected officials have re-affirmed Michigan’s commitment to anti-discrimination. As of today, the ACLU of Michigan is continuing to litigate its anti-discrimination lawsuit against the Detroit Police Department on behalf of pregnant officers who were automatically placed on unpaid leave as soon as their pregnancy was disclosed irrespective of their actual ability to continue working. Hopefully, the city can follow the path established by our state representatives and senators and amend its behavior to put a stop to such discriminatory practices. When it does so, I know my response will be, “how did you know, it’s just what I’ve always wanted!”

By Jessie Rossman, ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney

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