Nearly 5 years ago, Detroit Police Officer Tisha Prater was forced to go on unpaid leave when she revealed to her team that she was pregnant.
Unlike wounded members of the Detroit Police Department, Officer Prater was not given the option of “light duty” under the circumstances. Instead, she was forced to choose between having a family and doing her job (not to mention getting paid for it).
Fortunately for all of us, Officer Prater didn’t take this obvious discrimination lightly. She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and won.
In 2009, Public Act 190 – the Tisha Prater Act – was introduced by Detroit Senator Coleman Young II and passed unanimously in the Michigan Legislature. This act bans future job discrimination based on a woman’s pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.
More recently, Jeannette Cox, a law professor at University of Dayton, just down the road on I-75, has been making waves with a proposal to include pregnancy as a protected class under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Amendments in 2008 to the ADA included protection for people with minor temporary physical limitations – just like what a woman is likely to experience during pregnancy, though it does not explicitly protect pregnant women.
It makes me think back to Officer Prater, who should have been protected when she was pregnant. It seems simple: Protect pregnant women from discrimination and make the minor adjustments that they need to continue working: more frequent bathroom breaks, access to drinking water, less lifting, temporary light duty.
But this debate is actually much more complicated than it may seem on the surface. For one, Feminists in this country have been fighting for over a century to move us culturally away from the notion that women’s bodies are weaker, abnormal, or disabled just because they are not exactly like men’s. Until recently, pregnancy, or even the threat of it, was used to justify not hiring women.
Some think that classifying pregnancy under the Americans with Disabilities Act is kind of like a retreat – like admitting that being pregnant is something negative, instead of something beautiful. The ability to create life is a gift, not a detriment!
Of course, if teaming up with the Crips (the disability community, not the gang) sounds like something women don’t want to do for discrimination protection, I think they should ask themselves why not. What statement are women making when they “don’t’ want to be labeled that way?” Just as the Feminist movement has been fighting to define worth not by sex or gender, the disability rights movement has been fighting to define disability not as a problem in itself, but rather something that points out problems of inaccessibility and prejudice in our society.
To this day, things associated with women are deemed less valuable than those associated with men. And we hate that! Likewise, we can’t fall into the trap of associating disability with negativity, valueless-ness, or weakness. Both bogus attitudes were culturally created – we don’t have to abide by them and certainly shouldn’t be expected to perpetuate them. That hierarchical narrative only hurts all of us, whether we are women, disabled or both.
I’m a woman and I’m disabled and plenty of people may have a problem with that – or think that I would. But I don’t buy it.
I say solidarity, sisters.
For Further Reading/Listening: