ACLU Wins Change of Charleston Schools’ Policy That Discriminated Against Pregnant Workers and New Mothers
CHARLESTON, S.C. — The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of South Carolina have settled a federal pregnancy discrimination case against the Charleston County School District’s policy that did not allow sharing of paid leave time among employees for most absences related to pregnancy.
The policy at issue expressly forbade the district’s 6,500 employees from sharing their accrued paid leave with workers who needed to take leave due to normal pregnancy or recovery from childbirth, while allowing them to share accrued paid leave with any coworkers who needed time off because of a serious medical condition or to take care of an immediate family member.
Under the settlement, which followed a finding by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the policy violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the district agreed to rescind the exclusion and issue a new policy that includes all pregnant workers and new mothers.
“Forty years ago, Congress enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to assure that pregnancy, including recovery from childbirth, does not negatively impact working women’s opportunities,” said Susan Dunn, legal director of South Carolina. “Depriving pregnant workers and new moms of access to an income replacement program while extending it to workers with a wide range of health conditions is precisely the sort of different treatment the statute was intended to outlaw.”
Paid-leave donation programs offer employees income during prolonged periods of leave and are critical gap-fillers in the economic safety net, given the United States’ lack of mandated paid leave under federal law. Such policies are relatively unusual in the private sector, but because public employers like school districts commonly allow employees to carry over their leave time from year to year – which can result in large surpluses that allow them to share days, weeks, and even months of paid leave with coworkers in need — they rely on them more heavily; one recent report found that more than half of the public employees included in the study had access to donated leave time.
“We applaud the Charleston County School District’s policy change and it should serve as a model not just for public employers in South Carolina, but nationwide,” added Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “The vast majority of working women will become pregnant at some point, and taking the time they need to be healthy shouldn’t impose unequal economic burdens on them.”
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