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Policy Update: March 27, 2015

BC Logo_SquareA quick look back at events this week impacting women and families, from Valerie Young, a public policy analyst with Mom-mentum.

Mothers, mothers-to-be and other family caregivers are really at the center of the action in Washington this week.  The US Supreme Court revived a pregnancy discrimination case.  A bill for paycheck fairness was introduced in Congress.  The Secretary of Labor announced a national tour in favor of paid leave, and the US Census Data released numbers showing the gap between men’s and women’s pay.

Women’s advocates have been holding their breath for months waiting for a decision in the Young v. UPS case, and it was handed down this week.  At issue was whether an employer was obliged to grant a pregnant worker’s request for light lifting if it only offered this accommodation to workers injured on the job. The Supreme Court held, according to the Washington Post:  “A worker making a claim that her company intentionally treated her differently due to her pregnancy must show that she sought an accommodation, her company refused and then granted accommodations to others suffering from similar restrictions.”  Women’s rights groups like the National Partnership for Women & Families, have endorsed the decision. Vox offers a good analysis of the opinion and its context too.

The Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced in Congress (again!!) this week.  It’s sponsored by Senator Barbara Mikulski in the Senate and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro in the House.  (See how it makes a difference having women in public office?) This legislation aims to narrow the difference between men’s earnings and women’s earnings by making employers accountable for this type of gender discrimination.  It would impose heavier penalties on employers that do this, and protect a worker from retaliation if he or she inquires into unfair pay practices or discloses his or her compensation, promoting transparency. The Center for American Progress released this statement about the bill and how it would protect women and their families.  Congress has looked at the bill in previous sessions, but never passed it.

A primary argument against such legislation is that women simply choose lower-paying occupations, therefore the gender pay gap is not a problem of discrimination that legislation needs to address.  A report released this week from the US Census Bureau refutes this argument, showing that women are earning less even when they are in the same jobs mostly filled by men.  What’s remarkable is how consistent the findings are.  According to Catherine Rampell in the Washingotn Post:  “Of the 342 occupations for which enough data points were available, only nine showed women out-earning men in 2013.” These numbers support the argument that it doesn’t matter what field women go into, they will likely find their pay lower.

Women also take a hit economically and professionally because we spend more time caring for our families than men do.  One reason for this is that workplaces rarely offer paid leave for the birth of a child, or to take care of a seriously ill or dying family member.  The US remains the only country to force workers into choosing between their jobs and family obligations.  Tom Perez, the Secretary of the US Department of Labor, is throwing the weight of the federal government behind the push for passage of the self-funding Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act, (which I covered in last week’s summary), that would give workers the chance to deal with normal family needs and stay connected to their paid employment.   The #LeadOnLeave road show starts April 1 in Seattle, Washington.

Follow Valerie on Facebook (Your (Wo)Man in Washington) and Twitter (@WomanInDC) and find her on the blog at Mom-mentum.



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