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Celebrating Equal Pay Day

I will never forget earning my first paycheck.  The sense of pride and of paying your own way sticks with you. 

But today on Equal Pay Day, we are reminded us that far too many women are being paid much less than they are worth.  The statistic is well known but is worth repeating - women earn about 78 cents to a man’s dollar.  Because they earn less, a woman needs to work an extra four months until April 2015 to earn as much as a man did by in 2014.  Industry, geography, education and other factors limit the disparity but do not take it away.  And women of color face an even greater wage gap. 

Many times pregnancy causes women to lose their jobs or be paid less perhaps because employers value women less when they are caregivers or because our work places make it difficult to be a caregiver and a worker.  Given that the overwhelming majority of women will become mothers in their working years, this is a constant problem.

That is why the Supreme Court’s decision in Young v. UPS is good news on this Equal Pay Day.  The decision enhances our ability to fight for women and equal pay by putting teeth into the equal treatment provision of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).  I am proud to say that the Department of Justice filed a brief in the case supporting Young’s claims.

The PDA requires that pregnant women be treated the same as other employees with similar ability or inability to work.  Young was a challenge to an unfortunately all too common employer policy: providing job modifications or light duty assignments to some workers but denying them to pregnant women. 

Young, a delivery driver for UPS, needed light duty or help with lifting packages because her pregnancy limited her ability to lift.  UPS refused to allow Young to keep working in light of the lifting restriction.  Young went on unpaid leave and eventually lost her health insurance.  UPS claimed that its policy was legal even though it routinely granted accommodations or found other work for three categories of employees who were eligible for accommodations under its policy.  UPS said that pregnant women were treated the same as workers who were unable to perform their jobs but who did not fall into the three categories covered by the policy. 

The court decided that in pregnancy cases, a woman can prove intentional discrimination by showing that an employer gave job modification to workers with similar restrictions, that the employer’s policy created a significant burden on pregnant women and that the reasons for that policy were not sufficiently strong to justify the burden.  The case will now return to the lower court to be judged under that standard. 

Interestingly, as the case wound its way to the Supreme Court, UPS voluntarily changed its policy to enable pregnant women to keep working, and some states passed new anti-discrimination laws that require such accommodations. 

Young, the new state laws, and policy changes at employers like UPS will allow a woman to stay on the job and keep receiving a pay check—something that will make an enormous difference in a woman’s ability to take care of herself and her family. 

In addition to high-profile cases like Young, the Civil Rights Division fights for equal pay in its day-to-day cases. This year, the division reached a settlement with Clark County, Nevada, after it found that the county paid its female Director of Diversity significantly less than white and male employees whose duties were similar. Additionally, the division filed a complaint against the Pennsylvania State Police for alleged use of a physical test that disproportionately screens out women and is not related to the job. Further, the division reached a settlement with the Queen Anne’s County Sheriff Department to revise personnel policies and procedures to prevent harassment and retaliation following the firing of a female deputy sheriff who was sexually assaulted by the Sheriff’s brother.

These cases – and the fact that a woman has to work four months longer than a man to earn the same amount– show that we still have a long way to go.  But these cases also show how far we can go.  The women in these cases are directors, police officers, firefighters, and sheriffs.   And this year, a truck driver won an important victory for women’s rights.  Remember that, and keep working with us to move Equal Pay Day back to December 31st where it belongs.   

Updated March 3, 2017