I Faced Pregnancy Discrimination Thirteen Years Ago — I Won’t Wait Any Longer for Congress to Take Action
By Natasha Jackson
Natasha Jackson lives and works in Charleston, South Carolina. She is also an A Better Balance Community Advocate.
In 2008, I was pushed out of my promising career just because I was pregnant and needed to avoid heavy lifting at work — my family went from thriving to homeless in a matter of months. My son is now thirteen years old and I’ve watched in horror during the pandemic as woman after woman, including so many Black mothers like me, have been pushed off their jobs, for many reasons, but often because they were pregnant and needed proper personal protective equipment or even accommodations not related to the pandemic, like a water bottle to stay hydrated or more bathroom breaks. I know how hard it can be to come back from job loss as a breadwinning mother — if we are going to help these women get back to the workforce so they can provide for their families, we have to give them supportive laws. It’s 2021 and we owe it to the moms who have kept our families and our country running through this crisis to finally treat them right.
Back in 2008, when I was pregnant with my third child, I was working at a furniture and appliance rental company as an account executive. I was the only woman at the business, but was encouraged about my career prospects with the company, since I was at that time the highest-ranking employee in my position.
When I talked to my store manager about my pregnancy, he congratulated me and we discussed making some changes to my schedule to accommodate my morning sickness and so he could leave earlier when I closed the store. The problems started once the regional manager found out about my pregnancy. He insisted that I take a leave of absence until I could get a doctor’s note clearing my return to work, even though I was having no issues on the job. The note mentioned that I should avoid heavy lifting, which I assumed wouldn’t be a problem since my job only rarely involved heavy lifting. The company also allowed other workers with on-the-job injuries to stop lifting, so I figured they would be able to do the same for me. But I was not so lucky. They refused to let me work with these modest accommodations that they granted others and I was ultimately terminated shortly after having my child.
The economic and emotional effects of being pushed off the job were devastating. My husband and I had just made a down payment on a new house and then had to back out of the contract due to my loss of income. He worked temporary jobs and I was the breadwinner. We saw our dream of homeownership vanish before our eyes. We were placed in emergency public housing so we would have a roof over our heads and since we could no longer afford childcare, had to pull our children out of daycare. My husband and I ended up getting a divorce and of course our financial troubles were a contributing factor. It all happened so quickly — from feeling like we were on top of our finances and thriving to homelessness.
It felt so unfair — they were treating me worse than other employees just because I was pregnant. I took my case to an arbitrator, but he called my employers’ policies “pregnancy-blind,” even though I had pointed to employees who were treated better than me and weren’t pregnant. He said they were not “appropriate comparators” under the law. How is it legal and humane to be blind to pregnancy? That is because our federal pregnancy discrimination law was written in 1978 and has not been updated since then — simply put, employers can get away with treating pregnant workers like second-class citizens even after jumping through legal hoops to try to prove their case. A Better Balance has documented this in a report called Long Overdue, finding that two thirds of women even in recent years lost their cases in court.
Thankfully, my family and I are now doing much better — I have a new job and got married last year. Not only that, but I have spent the last several years harnessing my pain and joining up with A Better Balance to fight for better laws and policies so that no one has to go through what I did. I testified before the South Carolina legislature, telling my story, and was so proud when the Pregnancy Accommodations Act passed unanimously. Now it has been in effect for several years and I have told all my friends about it — one friend even quoted the law to her manager so she could stay healthy during her pregnancy after her employer initially refused to accommodate her. The employer hadn’t known about the law and they were able to work it out. That’s really all we are asking for as pregnant workers — a conversation about what we might need and what is possible.
The federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, first introduced in 2012, would update the law that let me and so many others slip through the cracks. It would help women back into the workforce and stop others from continuing to be forced out. It would improve our health when we need it the most. Even businesses support it, recognizing how important it is to have healthy and happy workers just like my store manager did before the higher ups got involved.
Some say we need to wait our turn, but I’ve waited thirteen years. I won’t watch my older daughter go through this herself someday. That’s why this Mother’s Day, I’m joining women across the country — mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and honorary moms — to call on Congress to pass the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, just like South Carolina and twenty-nine other states have done. Our economy, our families, our businesses, and our health depends on it. We need it now.