A New Jersey Senate committee on Thursday unanimously endorsed legislation that would vest women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth with the protection of the state’s Law Against Discrimination.
The bill, S-2995, sponsored by Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, requires employers to make reasonable accommodations, including extended leave, for pregnancy-related conditions and needs when requested by the woman on the advice of her doctor.
“This bill is intended to address unequal treatment against numerous workers,” Weinberg told the Senate Labor Committee committee. “This is particularly true for those who work the hardest jobs for the lowest wages.”
Amendments to the bill led the New Jersey Business and Industry Association to drop opposition. They excuse businesses from making accommodations that they can demonstrate would lead to an undue hardship based on their cost or the size of the employer’s work force and its budget.
“We’re at a good place on this,” Stefanie Riehl, NJBIA’s executive assistant vice president for employment and labor policy, told the panel.
Dina Bakst, the co-president of A Better Balance, a New York-based employee advocacy group, said pregnant women, or women who recently have given birth, frequently have been put on unpaid leave or have been fired because of their condition. Legislation such as this could encourage employers to make adaptations, such as reducing heavy lifting for pregnant women or for new mothers, or providing greater access to water and places to sit.
The bill would overturn the state Supreme Court’s ruling in Gerety v. Atlantic City Hilton Casino, 184 N.J. 391 (2005), where a 4-3 majority held the Hilton did not violate the LAD by firing an employee who, due to a difficult pregnancy, took more time off than allowed by company leave policy. The court said pregnancy need not be treated differently from other medical conditions or illnesses under state and federal family-leave laws.
The dissenters said the Hilton’s facially neutral leave policy resulted in a disparate impact on women, such that gender discrimination must be found.
“That case demonstrates the need for this legislation,” said Lynn Nowak, the executive vice president at Porzio Governmental Affairs, who was speaking on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.
The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration. There is no companion measure in the Assembly. •