Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. PDA was enacted in the year 1978 and it prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. The Act was developed as a result of momentum gained from the 1976 Supreme Court decision in General Elec. Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125 (U.S. 1976). In Gilbert, the employer offered to its employees a disability benefits plan which covered disability absences due to sickness and accidents. Absences related to pregnancy were not covered by the plan. Some female employees successfully brought suit against the employer alleging that the plan created sex discrimination under Title VII. However, the Supreme Court held that the plan was not discriminatory and found that pregnancy was not a disease but rather a condition which could be exempted from the insurance plan.
By 1977, women occupied about 45% of the employment class but only 25% of the insurance plans allowed sick leave for pregnancy related illness. Women’s organizations, feminist and civil rights activists revolted to this situation. They started the Campaign to End Discrimination against Pregnant Workers and seek legislative relief from the Gilbert decision. Consequently, legislation was introduced to amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and overrule the Gilbert decision, and one year later the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978.
The Bill requiring employers who provide health insurance and temporary disability plans to include coverage for birth related conditions was a subject of controversy. Many business associations argued that pregnancy was a voluntary condition and not an illness and such provisions would greatly increase their insurance related costs. Most feminist and civil rights organizations widely accepted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
However, there is a difference of opinion regarding the interpretation of the language used in the Act. The question of controversy that arose in 2002 was whether pregnant woman should be entitled to preferential treatment. States such as California have legislation offering special benefits to pregnant woman. In California Federal Sav. & Loan Ass’n v. Guerra, 479 U.S. 272 (U.S. 1987), the United States Supreme Court upheld one such state statute. The state statute requires employers: a) to reinstate women employees after a reasonable pregnancy disability leave; b) to provide reasonable accommodation to pregnant employees if they so requests with the advice of their health care provider; c) to accept and allow transfer requests from pregnant employees to less strenuous job if the employer has a policy/practice of transferring employees with temporary disability to less strenuous/hazardous jobs; d) to allow transfer requests from pregnant employees requesting employer to transfer them to less strenuous jobs during pregnancy if such requests are made with advice of employees’ health care provider, and can be reasonably accommodated by the employer.[i]
[i] Cal Gov Code § 12945