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Democrats push for broader rights for pregnant workers

Peggy Young, the UPS worker whose case the Supreme Court bolstered on Wednesday, has made it that much easier for pregnant workers to sue if their workplaces essentially force them off the job for needing a reasonable accommodation. But Democratic lawmakers argue that the law should require employers to offer such accommodations, without a pregnant woman having to show discrimination in court, an expensive and complicated process.  

In an unusual split, two Republican appointees, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, voted with the more liberal justices to clarify that workers can make such claims for accommodations under the law. But the matter is more predictably polarized in Congress: So far there are no Republican co-sponsors for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which spells out that employers must provide reasonable accommodations on the job for pregnant workers. The bill has languished in Congress without a floor vote in either the House or the Senate.

Sen. Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, told msnbc Wednesday he is introducing the gist of the bill, which he co-authored with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, as an amendment to the budget, which could force Republicans to take a stand on the issue of pregnant women in the workplace. Such a budget resolution wouldn’t have the force of law, but it would bring the issue to the fore. 

“It may be able to focus people’s attention on the problem,” Casey said in an interview. “This should not be as difficult as it’s been.”  

RELATED: Supreme Court hears pregnancy discrimination case

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said he will introduce the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in the House in the coming weeks. “The Republicans are opposed to it by and large,” he told msnbc Wednesday. “One possibility is that they don’t care about pregnant women. The second possibility is that they are opposed to any regulation on business. The third possibility they think it will hurt the economy. That’s ridiculous.” He paused. “So are the other two reasons.” 

He paused again. “I don’t really believe that the Republicans hate pregnant women, obviously,” he added. 

Nadler pointed out that the text of the bill is similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was a bipartisan bill that passed with broad support and, he said, hasn’t hurt business.

The Supreme Court hasn’t eliminated the need for the bill, Nadler argued, because the decision still means that pregnant employees will have to be compared to other employees receiving accommodations and show discrimination. That leaves as a defense, “If we treat everyone lousy, we can treat the pregnant workers lousy, too.”  

In recent years, 16 states have passed laws that are similar to the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, including New York City. Such laws are currently being debated in legislatures from Kentucky to Massachusetts

RELATED: Pregnant and forced off the job

Young’s case brought together unlikely allies, including women’s rights groups that support abortion rights and conservative groups that oppose abortion. Casey, unlike most Democrats, opposes abortion rights. “Even folks who disagree on the issue of the abortion can agree that if a woman has made the decision to carry a child to term and she’s in the workplace, she should have the opportunity to keep working as long as she wants, and the opportunity to have a healthy pregnancy,” Casey said. “The last thing I want is a mom who is bringing a child to term to have added stress.” 

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Democrats push for broader rights for pregnant workers