Pregnant workers win protection in anti-discrimination law

pregnancy discrimination city council
Angie Welfare said she was forced to take unpaid sick leave when she was pregnant. The City Council passed legislation Tuesday that would help protect against such pregnancy discrimination.
Credit: William Alatriste

When Angie Welfare was eight weeks pregnant, she told her manager at American Airlines’ freight department in JFK airport that she wasn’t supposed to lift more than 10 pounds.

“He said, ‘We don’t have light duty for pregnant women,’” said Welfare, a 45-year-old resident of Jamaica, Queens. “They sent me home that day.”

Welfare, who had worked at the airline for 18 years, was forced to take an unpaid sick leave of absence.

That was May 31, 2006. On Tuesday, the City Council passed an amendment to protect against such pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

If enacted, the amended bill would require employers to provide reasonable accommodation — what doesn’t cause undue hardship — to pregnant employees.

“A woman in Angie’s situation would be legally entitled to have that accommodation made,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who noted Welfare’s story was “critical in developing this legislation.”

The bill would also allow individuals to file a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and bring a civil action if they feel discriminated against.

But the law is meant to prevent, not necessarily punish, discrimination from employers, explained its sponsor, Bronx Councilman James Vacca.

“They will be getting clarity,” Vacca said.

The law is also meant to help pregnant women know their rights. The new requirements would be clearly visible in the workplace if the law is enacted.

Testifying before the City Council in June, Welfare said she didn’t have the “knowledge or resources” to challenge her employer, though she knew what they did was “wrong.”

When Welfare got pregnant a second time, she hid it from the airline.

That’s because the first time, Welfare said her house went into foreclosure, her bank account was frozen, and she had to rely on food stamps.

“Imagine planning to have a baby with no job or income. How do you plan?” she testified.

American Airlines did not respond to multiple requests for comment. A lawsuit Welfare filed against the company is pending.

“I always worked. … That was taken away from me, that privilege,” Welfare said Tuesday.

A couple hours before the bill passed, Vacca approached Welfare at City Hall.

“Thank you,” he said. “This was you.”

A spokeswoman said Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to sign the legislation.

Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter: @AnnaESanders



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