Attorney General James Takes Action to Defend Protections for Pregnant Workers

New York Attorney General Letitia James today led a coalition of 23 attorneys general defending a proposed rule issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission(EEOC) to implement the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) of 2022. The PWFA is landmark federal legislation that requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant and postpartum employees. The EEOC rule would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for a broad range of conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth, including an employee’s decision to seek abortion care. In an amicus brief filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Attorney General James and the coalition opposed a lawsuit seeking to stop the EEOC’s rule from taking effect.

“The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act protects the health and livelihood of millions of workers who are essential to our economy and communities,” said Attorney General James. “At a time when reproductive health care services are at risk, it is critical to ensure that workers who obtain abortion care are protected by this law. The law makes it clear that workers should not have to choose between their health and their job. Striking down these regulations would put workers across the country at risk, and I thank my fellow attorneys general for joining this effort to defend them.”

Enacted in 2022, the PWFA is the first federal law that requires employers to provide pregnant and postpartum workers with reasonable accommodations – such as additional breaks or excused time off for doctors’ visits – to protect their health. Prior to its passage, a patchwork of laws failed to adequately protect pregnant or postpartum workers, putting many at risk of health complications or job loss, with a disproportionate effect on low-income workers and workers of color. In August 2023, the EEOC proposed a rule implementing the PWFA that, among many other things, required employers to provide reasonable accommodations for workers whose pregnancies are terminated by abortion – most commonly in the form of time off to attend a medical appointment or recovery.

In April 2024, a group of states led by Tennessee sued the EEOC in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, arguing against the requirement of reasonable accommodations for abortion care and seeking to stop the implementation of the entire EEOC rule pending the outcome of the litigation.

In an amicus brief to the District Court, Attorney General James and the coalition argue for the importance of the PWFA, noting that job loss due to pregnancy discrimination can impoverish workers and families and affect their economic security at a critical time in their lives. The PWFA provides important workplace protections for pregnant and postpartum workers, particularly low-wage workers and workers of color who are more likely to suffer negative health outcomes during pregnancy as a result of their jobs. The brief also argues that the EEOC was correct to include termination of pregnancy – including via miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion – in the law’s protections for “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” Decades of case law interpreting an identical term in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act support the EEOC’s interpretation.

Joining Attorney General James in filing the amicus brief are the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.

This is the latest in Attorney General James’ efforts to protect pregnant and postpartum New Yorkers and defend access to reproductive care in New York and nationwide. In May, Attorney General James sued anti-abortion group Heartbeat International and 11 “crisis pregnancy centers” in New York for advertising an unproven treatment they call “Abortion Pill Reversal.” In April, Attorney General James led a coalition of attorneys general urging Congress to expand access to reproductive health services and pass the Access to Family Building Act. In March, Attorney General James delivered over 9,500 cans of baby formula to New Yorkers as a result of an investigation into Walgreens for price gouging formula during the 2022 shortage. In January, Attorney General James led a coalition of 24 attorneys general urging the U.S. Supreme Court to protect access to mifepristone. In December 2023, Attorney General James secured a court order to stop militant anti-abortion group Red Rose Rescue from blocking access to abortion care in New York. In December 2021, Attorney General James led a coalition of 15 attorneys general calling on the Senate to pass the PWFA.

The amicus brief was prepared by Deputy Solicitor General Ester Murdukhayeva under the supervision of Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood of the Division of Appeals and Opinions, and Special Counsel for Reproductive Justice Galen Leigh Sherwin of the Executive Division, which is overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.

Niagara Falls Reporter.

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