Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Michigan strengthens anti-discrimination protections for pregnant employees

Although state law prohibits discriminatory treatment of women due to pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions, Michigan legislators found it necessary to amend their state civil rights act to strengthen protections for female employees. Public Act No 190 (H.B. 4327) is a plan designed to strengthen women's rights by protecting the jobs of female employees who are forced to take unpaid leave when they become pregnant, according to State Representative Coleman A. Young II (D-Detroit), the bill’s primary sponsor.

P.A. 190 amends Article 2 of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELRCA) to protect all female employees whose job could be affected by pregnancy – but can still perform light duty – by requiring employers to treat a pregnant employee the same as any other employee who has limitations placed on their ability to work.

Signed into law by Governor Jennifer Granholm in December 2009, P.A. 190 was created in response to a recent federal court case (Prater et al v Detroit Police Department and the City of Detroit, no 08-CV-14339, EDMich) in which five female DPD police officers allege violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

According to plaintiffs’ complaint, the Detroit Police Department (DPD) previously maintained an informal policy and practice of providing light-duty assignments to officers who had medical conditions or injuries that temporarily prevented them from performing the full range of confrontational police duties. Under this policy, pregnant officers were placed in restricted duty positions until they opted to use leave time or were required by their medical providers to discontinue work. In 2004, the DPD stopped offering light duty to pregnant police officers and, according to the lawsuit, when the DPD learns that an officer is pregnant, regardless of whether she has actual work restrictions or has a desk job, she is placed on sick leave and receives a salary only until accrued personal leave or sick time is exhausted. Also, pregnant officers are placed on a waiting list for light-duty positions, which are prioritized based on seniority. Reportedly, however, nonpregnant officers with minor nonduty-related injuries are not placed on sick leave and in some cases they received preferential assignments to light-duty work. The case is expected to go to trial in July or August 2010.

When Young’s plan passed the state legislative house, he said “This is great news for Michigan's hard-working women, who have been discriminated against for far too long. No woman should have to put her job, health and family's livelihood on the line just because she is pregnant. In these tough times, it's more important than ever that we ensure that Michigan's expecting mothers are treated fairly. I commend my colleagues in the Legislature for coming together to pass this major piece of civil rights legislation that will help improve gender equality in Michigan.”

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