When it comes to comparing maternity leave and paid-time off with other countries, the United States ranks close to last. The Center for Public Interest Law (CPIL) gathered students, practitioners and faculty together on Wednesday, March 18 to discuss gender and pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Attorneys Amy Meek, Mike Persoon and Sarah Baum shared their knowledge, advice and personal experiences related to the topic of gender and pregnancy discrimination.
Meek, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois spoke specifically about her work at the ACLU and the new laws in Illinois that combat pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Meek detailed the recent and controversial case, Young v. UPS, which is still being decided in the Supreme Court, and spoke on its impact on state laws that may or may not benefit pregnant employees. Meek also discussed the three major differences between federal laws and laws in Illinois, the latter seeming to favor pregnant women much more.
Persoon, a DePaul alumnus and attorney with Despres, Schwartz, and Geoghegan, Ltd., focused on the different ways people are discriminated against by their employers. He discussed how victims can prove they were discriminated against, referencing the McDonald-Douglas scale and federal and state laws. Persoon also stated that although he rarely, if ever, hears of an employer discriminating against one’s gender, he surprisingly has a number of cases where women have been fired specifically because they were pregnant.
Baum, a DePaul alumna and attorney with DePaul University’s Croak Legal Services, spoke of her work with employment discrimination at LAF prior to joining Croak Legal Services. She detailed the Family Medical Leave Act, which offers employees 12 weeks of time off. Baum explained that employees, especially pregnant women, may utilize the act if they feel they are not given enough time off after childbirth.
Overall, all three attorneys emphasized that more work needs to be done, not only with gender discrimination, but also with pregnancy discrimination. Although many other countries offer six to nine months of maternity leave, paid time off and maternity leave for fathers, the panel felt that the likelihood of the United States adopting similar laws is slim.