Pregnancy Discrimination Act: fail?

Workplace protections actually hurt women, say moms. Well, one mom, anyway.

By Lynn Harris
Published May 6, 2009 5:51PM (EDT)

Does the Pregnancy Discrimination Act discriminate against women? You bet your booties it does, pregnant "working mom" Carrie Lukas tells ABC's John Stossel (in a preview of a "20/20" episode that airs on Friday). "Sometimes the laws that are intended to help women like me actually end up hurting women like me," she says. "All of a sudden, a potential employer is looking at me and thinking, she just might turn around and sue us. That makes it less likely that I'm going to get hired." She believes that the job market would work better -- for women and in general -- unfettered by such laws. "If an employer is going to discriminate against enough people, it's going to be bad for them in the long run. It's a bad business practice, and that's the best way to prevent discrimination," she says.

At the moment, Lukas's job seems pretty secure. She, the piece puts it, "often writes and speaks about social issues" as a VP at the Independent Women's Forum, which, it should be noted -- no really, ABC, it should be noted -- is a conservative "equity feminist" organization with an established and official ax to grind in the areas of (among other things) "limited government" and "free markets." (And which, of course, makes her particularly Stossel-friendly.) The piece says that "moms like Lukas" believe the PDA doesn't work the way it should, but no others are cited. So we assume that by "moms like Lukas," John Stossel means "John Stossel."  

As a counterpoint to Lukas, the article describes a class action suit filed against Novartis Pharmaceticals for (gender and) pregnancy discrimination.  The lawyer who filed the suit bottom-lines it thusly: "If you're pregnant, there are certain protections in place, and there should be certain protections in place."

Fine. "Balanced" article? Check, I guess. But wow. We know Stossel is "advocacy journalism" guy -- but here, there's not a whole lot of the latter in the former. Take, for instance, this whopper, left wanly unexamined under the sub-head "Complaints Point To Possible Failure of Discrimination Law": [I]f Congress thought the Pregnancy Discrimination Act would end discrimination, it was wrong. In recent years, complaints have steadily gone up." By the same argument, murders would point to possible failure of laws against murder.

And this: "A lot of responsibilities are shifted each time I go to a doctor's appointment," says Lukas. "That means I'm unavailable to do whatever work needs to be done during that time, which means one of my colleagues is often picking up the slack. It's an economic reality that there are costs for businesses for having pregnant women as employees." Also reality: there are costs for businesses for having human beings as employees. 

For what it's worth, a tag at the end of the piece invites readers to learn more about pregnancy discrimination by visiting the National Partnership for Women and Families. But what if Stossel had actually called them? "Preposterous!" said Sharyn Tejani, NPWF's senior policy counsel for work and family programs, when I asked her about the assertions made in the article. "We know that since we put laws in place that protect women from discrimination, the number of women who work outside the home has drawn up dramatically and women have been able to move into professions they were kept out of before. Civil rights laws obviously help women who want and need to work -- especially as they are becoming more and more the sole breadwinners in their family." 

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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