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EEOC’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act rule faces legal challenges

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is facing legal challenges to its recently issued final rule implementing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

The PWFA, which passed with bipartisan support in 2022, requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees and those with pregnancy- or childbirth-related conditions, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship.

Legal challenges to the final rule

The EEOC’s final rule has drawn criticism and legal action from various groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), The Catholic University, two Louisiana dioceses, and several states. These plaintiffs argue that the EEOC has overstepped its authority by interpreting the PWFA to require accommodations for employees seeking abortions, which they claim is not explicitly mentioned in the statute.

Under the PWFA, covered employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees for pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, which, according to the EEOC’s final rule, includes abortion. The rule entitles workers to a range of pregnancy-related accommodations, such as time off for childbirth, abortion, miscarriage, and fertility treatments.

USCCB’s position

The USCCB, which initially supported the PWFA, filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing that the final rule’s interpretation undermines human dignity and violates the religious freedoms of Catholic employers. Writing an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, president of the USCCB, writes that the PWFA was intended to be “pro-woman, pro-family, and pro-worker” and that the EEOC’s interpretation distorts its purpose.

According to Broglio, the final rule effectively nullifies the law’s protections for religious employers and would ban employers from encouraging employees to choose life instead of abortion.

EEOC’s defense

The EEOC contends that the PWFA’s text mirrors the language of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which has long been interpreted to protect employees who choose to have (or not have) an abortion. The agency argues that the plaintiffs lack standing, their claims lack merit, and an injunction would cause confusion and undermine the PWFA’s purpose.

The ACLU, ACLU of Louisiana, and the National Women’s Law Center have filed an amicus brief supporting the EEOC’s position, urging the court to allow the regulations to go into effect as scheduled. They argue that the regulations are essential to ensure that pregnant workers no longer have to choose between their well-being and their job.

The consolidated cases are currently pending before U.S. District Court Judge David Joseph, who heard arguments on the preliminary injunction in mid-June.