Rights Blog

RIGHTS BLOG: Updates from the Department of Human Rights

EEOC Issues Updated Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination

Pregnancy treated as other medical conditions in Employment

Posted on 7/22/14

For the first time since 1983, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated their guidance on discrimination in employment against pregnant workers. The guidance incorporates the significant developments in anti-discrimination law that have taken place over the last 30 years, most notably the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was amended in 2008 to cover individuals with pregnancy-related disabilities. “Despite much progress, we continue to see a significant number of charges alleging pregnancy discrimination, and our investigations have revealed the persistence of overt pregnancy discrimination, as well as the emergence of more subtle discriminatory practices,” EEOC Chairwoman Jacqueline A. Berrien said in a statement.​

Joan C. Williams, a law professor and founding Director of the Center for Worklife Law at the University of California's Hastings School of Law and co-author of the 2011 study, “Pregnant, Poor and Fired," called the new guidelines “a significant victory” for two reasons:

  • EEOC investigators would become more sensitive to the special needs of pregnant workers.
  • Employment lawyers would have better information to represent clients who were victims of such discrimination.

Pregnancy should be respected as a medical condition

The new guidelines clarify how the ADA applies to pregnant workers and emphasizes that discrimination because of pregnancy (past, present, or future) is illegal. Additionally, under the PDA, employees are protected from discrimination of the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions (including lactation); and that women affected by such conditions must be treated as all other employees in their ability or inability to work. This means, simply, a condition related to pregnancy must be treated and respected as any other medical condition. For example, an employer may not force pregnant workers to take leave and may “have to provide light duty for pregnant workers”. The guidance also clarifies that an employer may not discriminate against an employee because of her breastfeeding schedule. This new guidance coupled with Minnesota’s recently passed Women’s Economic Security Act provides significant additional protections and remedies for nursing mothers.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights enforces anti-discrimination laws in employment based on sex, pregnancy related disability, and now familial status. Historically, the Minnesota Supreme Couirt has relied on federal anti-discrimination law in interpreting the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The EEOC’s updated guidance paired with state legislation on WESA has increased protection for Minnesota women in the workplace.

Ensuring that expectant mothers and women with children can maximize their opportunities at work will build economic security within families and strengthen Minnesota's ability to compete in a rapidly globalizing world.

Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Posted on 7/7/14

“We are confronted primarily with a moral issue.  It is as old as the scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution.  The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated . . . [O]ne hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free.  They are not yet free from the bonds of injustice.  And this nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all of its citizens are free.  Now the time has come for this nation to fulfill its promise. “
– President John F. Kennedy, June 11, 1963

Few pieces of legislation have so distinctly defined the promise of the American dream as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.  The law ended segregation in schools, at work and public facilities.  The law opened the door to the Voting Rights Act and Fair Housing Act.  Some of America’s citizens who believed they had been given a check with insufficient funds began to believe that concepts of justice, equality and democracy were no longer illusory for them. 

Title I of the Act barred unequal application of voter registration requirement and required all voting rules and procedures be uniform regardless of race.

Title II of the Act prohibited discrimination in motels, hotels, theatres, restaurants, and all other public accommodations which were engaged in interstate commerce.

Title III of the Act barred state and municipal governments from barring access to public facilities based on an individual’s religion, gender, race or ethnicity.

Title IV gave authority to United States Attorney General to initiate legal action to ensure the desegregation of public schools.

Title V created an administrative agency, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to investigate claims of discrimination in the workplace.

Title VI prevented discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funds.

Title VII prohibited discrimination by employers on the basis of color, race, sex, national origin or religion.

The path to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was far from certain.  President Johnson faced opposition: 

“The actual battle in Congress took all of Johnson’s political skills. Faced with strong opposition from many Republicans and most Southern Democrats, he resorted to his forceful personal powers. He told Georgia Senator Richard Russell, a major opponent of civil rights legislation, that “if you get in the way, I’m going to run you down.” In the Senate, the president faced a filibuster, a delaying debate that could have killed the entire bill. The filibuster lasted 83 days, the longest in Senate history,” stated the Constitutional Rights Foundation.

No longer would an open caste system exist in America were it was visible to any child that colored people were viewed as second class citizens.  Discriminatory barriers to employment that unfairly limited job and business opportunities began to recede.  Individuals seeking the right to vote would now no longer face systematic intimidation at the ballot box. 

“Victor Hugo wrote in his diary substantially this sentiment, ‘Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come,’” said Senator Dirksen. “The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing of government, in education, and in employment. It must not be stayed or denied.”

Yet with the act passed by Senate on June 19th and President Johnson ready to sign the act, the struggle for civil rights was not over.

June 21, 1964 - Three young men volunteering for the voter registration drive Freedom Summer disappear in segregated Mississippi. Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Earl Chaney were driving to a Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) office in Meridian, Mississippi, that evening. This leads to a national outcry, protests, and a FBI investigation.

July 2, 1964 - President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the bill into law.

August 4, 1964 - The FBI finds the bodies of the three missing civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi. They had been shot and buried beneath a dam.

December 14, 1964 - The Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the act in the interstate commerce case Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. the United States of America. The case, initiated by an Atlanta motel seeking to discriminate among its customers based on race, proves to be a major test of the Civil Rights Act.

August 6, 1965 - Passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 helps protect voter rights, especially for African Americans barred from voting by local governments. Preclearance, or federal pre-approval for voting changes, is required for jurisdictions with a history of disenfranchisement.

June 25, 2013 - In the case Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Attorney General, et al., the Supreme Court strikes down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act. The court deems federal preclearance no longer necessary.

While the Civil Rights Act didn’t end the discussion, the law undoubtedly was a large step forward to bringing us closer to the vision of America that was articulated in our Declaration of Independence “that we are all created equal.” 

Fifty years later, the struggle continues and we are reminded that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.  Let us therefore celebrate what was accomplished and but also recommit ourselves to a more perfect union for all.

50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act

Posted on 7/2/14

Today, July 2, 2014, marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This historical day marked a moment of victory in eliminating legal discrimination and segregation.

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King, then Senator Hubert Humphrey, and thousands of others joined the fight for change. There were marches, strikes, demonstrations, and civil disobedience. This work began paving a road to increased racial equality.  The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom delivered a powerful statement, pushing politicians such as, President John F. Kennedy to actively support the civil rights movement. It was events like the March on Washington, bringing people together for one cause that provided a catalyst for the success of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

With the support of President Kennedy, the end of legal segregation was near. During his presidency, the House Judiciary Committee presented the Civil Rights Act to the House of Representatives. However, when the assassination of President Kennedy occurred on November 22, 1963 – only two days after the document had been presented to the House of Representatives – everything seemed to be going downhill. As President Johnson took office, he announced the importance of prioritizing the Civil Rights Act. The bill made its way to the House of Representatives and passed on February 10, 1964. However it faced a filibuster in the Senate, which was a huge road block in passing the bill. Finally, on June 10, by a vote of 71 to 29 the Senate voted to end debate on the bill, a fist in the history of the body on civil rights legislation. In June 19, 1964, the Senate finally passed the bill with a 73-27 vote. Following Senate passage the bill was sent back to the House of Representatives for a final vote. The bill was officially signed into law by President Johnson on July 2, 1964.

In commemoration of today’s event, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights has created a video discussing the effects that this moment has had on society. In conversation with Minnesotan’s involved in the civil rights movement, Commissioner Kevin Lindsey captures the legacy of the Civil Rights Act that has trailed throughout the past 50 years. The video contains Minnesotan civil rights activists sharing their experiences and opinions on the past, present, and the future changes to society. “Living the Legacy” television shows airs on local cable through July 5 and is featured on YouTube , which includes the 30-minute commentary show.

Metro 6 – July 2 to July 5

Tuesday           7:30 – 9 p.m.
Wednesday       4:30 – 6 a.m.
Wednesday       9:30 – 11 a.m.
Thursday          7 – 8:30 p.m.

For more information about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, visit MDHR’s Facebook page and the website at www.mn.gov/mdhr.