Pregnancy Discrimination Act


  • Saranna Thornton

Document type: Encyclopedia Entry

Appears in: Work and Family Encyclopedia

Year: 2005


  • Family-Friendly
  • Leave
  • Mothers/Motherhood
  • Public Policy
  • Work and Family


  • Economics


The legalized discriminatory treatment of women employees has a long history in the U.S. and was grounded in part on the belief that all women were or would become mothers. In Bradwell v. Illinois (1872) and Muller v. Oregon (1908), state laws limiting the types of jobs women were allowed to perform and the number of hours women were allowed to work were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court based on arguments that: (1) the government had an interest in promoting the maternal functions of women; and (2) the maternal functions of women were incompatible with work outside of the home. In the case of employees who became pregnant, it was legal for firms to refuse to hire a pregnant woman, to fire a woman when she became pregnant, or to insist that a pregnant woman resign at a pre-specified point in her pregnancy (e.g., when she began to “show”). Employers who allowed pregnant women to keep working could legally demote them, refuse to provide maternity leave (either paid or unpaid), or they could mandate pre-specified maternity leave periods that were unrelated to the woman’s ability or desire to work (e.g., mandatory six month maternity leave beginning three months prior to the woman’s due date). It was not unusual for employers to eliminate all the accrued seniority of a woman who took maternity leave and then returned to work, or for employers providing group health insurance to exclude pregnancy and childbirth from coverage.

Link:Pregnancy_Discriminatio__Act encyclopedia