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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Discussing the rights of mothers


The impact of Warren’s pregnancy discrimination case

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 2020 presidential candidate, made headlines recently for standing by her account of the way she was treated when she became pregnant during her time as a special needs educator.

She claims she was “asked not to return to teaching after a single year because she was ‘visibly pregnant’.”

The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative newspaper, found county records (1970) from Riverdale Elementary in Riverdale, New Jersey, showing that the school approved her return from maternity leave for the following year in April 1971. They also found minutes from a meeting the following June, indicating Warren had resigned.

The Jacobin magazine, a democratic-socialist magazine, also scrutinized Warren’s story when a journalist, who happens to be a strong Bernie Sanders supporter, looked at how the story had changed over the years.

In a 2007 interview, Warren said she didn’t think the job was going to work out. Then in her 2014 book, she said the principal of the school did not invite her back for the next year when she became visibly pregnant. The child Warren was pregnant with at the time of this story was born in 1971. That means the baby was seven years old by the time the Pregnancy Discrimination Act passed in 1978. Before that, it was perfectly legal for an employer to fire a woman on the sole basis of pregnancy.

This would explain why another teacher from Riverdale Elementary, Trudy Randall, told CBS news, “The rule was at five months you had to leave when you were pregnant. Now, if you didn’t tell anybody you were pregnant, and they didn’t know, you could fudge it and try to stay on a little bit longer. But they kind of wanted you out if you were pregnant.” This suggests there was not much difference between being fired and being forced to resign.

Additionally, if the school board had a choice of how to phrase the situation in their favor, it is no surprise that they chose to record Warren as resigning. This policy, spoken or unspoken, would also explain why Warren was hired back at four months pregnant but was shown the door two months later at six months pregnant.

This story is one Warren tells a lot on the campaign trail, but she cannot be expected to tell the same story verbatim each time, which is what critics of her story choose to focus on. It is not an uncommon practice for politicians to have go-to stories to tell at campaign events, and it is also not uncommon for those stories to change.

[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#cecece” txt_color=”#000000″]“Whether Warren is your first or last choice for the next President of the United States, it is important to recognize the significance of her story.”[/mks_pullquote]

While it has been 41 years since the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was put in place, and 49 years since Warren’s dilemma, expecting mothers and new mothers still face struggles at work.

In this era of mom-shaming, women feel like they can’t win because while their coworkers shame them for missing work, people in their community shame them for missing out on their childrens’ lives.

Maternity leave laws are also not ideal. The only federal law concerning maternity leave is in the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, requiring certain employers to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave following childbirth or adoption to moms or dads, making the U.S. one of only four countries that does not require all employers to offer paid leave.

Granted, there are state laws requiring paid leave and certain companies will offer paid leave without being required to do so. But for a lot of families, going 12 weeks without pay is unmanageable, especially with the expenses of a new baby.

Whether Warren is your first or last choice for the next President of the United States, it is important to recognize the significance of her story.

Of course there are huge issues at stake in the next election, like gun control and climate change. But take a moment to research what each candidate has said about family leave and workplace discrimination reform, if they have said anything at all.

While family leave laws may not directly affect college students in the near future, they may eventually, and it clearly takes many years for these laws to be reformed.

If you’re absolutely, without a doubt, never having children, consider the person in your future workplace who will, and make family and work life a little more enjoyable for them.

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Consider advocating for women, mothers and parents in the workplace to have a better experience than those of Warren or even your own parents.

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