New York City Commission on Human Rights Hearing on Pregnancy and Caregiver Discrimination on January 30, 2019

On January 30, 2019, the New York City Human Rights Commission teamed up with the CUNY School of Law, the Commission on Gender Equity, and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to convene a hearing on pregnancy and caregiver discrimination. The purpose of the hearing was to discuss issues that nursing mothers, caregivers, and pregnant women face on a daily basis in the workplace. Although there are federal, state, and local laws in place to protect you as a pregnant woman or a caregiver, discrimination on these grounds still occurs. Greater protections may be needed. If you face pregnancy or caregiver discrimination on the job, you should consult our experienced New York City pregnancy discrimination attorneys.

Many experts and stakeholders were given an opportunity to speak at the hearing convened by CUNY School of Law and the New York City Human Rights Commission, including law school dean Mary Lu Bilek; Cindy Soohoo, the director of the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic; and Cynthia Thomas Calvert, a lawyer and recognized expert in Family Responsibilities Discrimination law.

The purpose of the hearing was to consider whether additional steps should be taken to eliminate pregnancy and caregiver discrimination in New York City. It was remarked that in 2019, no New Yorker should need to suffer from lower pay, limited career advancement, or a lost job only because they began a family or helped their loved ones. The cost of living is high in the boroughs, so it is imperative that New Yorkers have full pay when taking care of a child.

Ms. Calvert spoke about caregiver discrimination. She referenced the origins of caregiver discrimination. Twenty years ago, Joan Williams, a law professor and the founding director of the Center for Work Life Law, looked into why women were not advancing in the workplace, in spite of women’s initiatives and anti-discrimination laws. Professor Williams focused on mothers and the expectations that employers have of their employees on the job versus the employee’s expectation of having a fulfilling family life as well as a successful career. She examined unconscious biases about mothers and the impact of those biases on women in the workplace. She found that women are not cut as much slack as men are, and mothers get even less slack.

Compounding the difficulties for caregivers in the workplace, if fathers were actively involved in their kids’ lives, they could face discrimination even more blatant than that faced by mothers. In 2007, all of the research was provided to the EEOC, which issued guidance about the illegal disparate treatment of workers who had caregiving responsibilities. This gave rise to laws against caregiver discrimination, also known as family responsibilities discrimination. The number of lawsuits in courts shows that these particular types of cases of discrimination rise at a much greater rate than other types of discrimination cases. Breastfeeding, in particular, is difficult for women in the workplace. Often, women who need to express or pump during the day still have trouble getting the breaks and clean spaces necessary to do so, and they may face harassment when they do get a break to express. New York City has led the country on the issue of accommodations for lactation rights.

Another related area is that of discrimination against caregivers who must give elder care. Sometimes employees who care for their sick or aging parents are harassed on the job and face obstacles in getting leave. They may be denied remote or flexible work, or they may have especially challenging schedules. This may present a bigger issue as the population ages and seniors want to age at home, but they do not have the financial resources for this.

Carmelyn P. Malalis, the chair and commissioner of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, also spoke about new legal protections. She remarked that in New York City, the Commission has drafted the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which has just turned five years old, and the New York City caregiver discrimination law.

Another speaker was Michael Blake, an assembly member of the 79th District of the South Bronx, where in the 2010 census, it was revealed that 43% of women live in poverty. He remarked that workplace protections must be extended to all women, especially low-income women, who are more susceptible to discrimination and less likely to know their rights under state and local laws.

Other stakeholders and members of the public were also able to testify about their personal experiences. The Commission will launch a report with recommendations arising out of the findings of the hearing.

If you have been subjected to pregnancy discrimination or caregiver discrimination on the job, our trial attorneys may be able to assist you with the recovery of damages under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, or the New York City Human Rights Law. Call us at (866) 229-9441 or contact us through our online form. We handle employment litigation in the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, and Brooklyn, as well as Westchester County, Long Island, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

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