The Democratic Senator from Illinois not only became the first active Senator to give birth, but also convinced her colleagues to vote for a resolution she submitted to permit senators to bring newborns to the Senate floor during votes.
Duckworth thanked Democrats and Republicans for supporting her bill and "for helping bring the Senate into the 21st Century by recognizing that sometimes new parents also have responsibilities at work."
While Duckworth's bill is limited to a very small number of women, it serves as a reminder that many more pregnant or new mothers have far less power when it comes to fighting for their workplace rights. "For instance, our client, Illinois police officer Jennifer Panattoni, was forced to take roughly 7 months of unpaid leave when she was pregnant because her department wouldn't temporarily reassign her patrol duties," the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) writes. "They refused her request for desk work even though the department routinely reassigns workers with other medical conditions that interfere with patrolling."
The ACLU also took on a case in March representing a class of female dockworkers on the west coast. These women allegedly faced hurdles when they tried to land better-paying union jobs. "The women's seniority freezes when they take pregnancy-related leave, while coworkers absent due to on-the-job injuries or military service face no such penalty," the ACLU notes.
Women who do return to work after giving birth often have to confront employers who refuse to deal with the reality of their workers having a new born. "Those who are breastfeeding and return to the job, for instance, are often faced with employers who refuse to provide a safe, clean place to pump breast milk," the ACLU states.
"This was the case for the flight attendants and pilots at Frontier Airlines, which offers no paid maternity leave or accommodations for employees who are nursing."
Even with laws such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), many employers are falling short or failing entirely when it comes to their workers.
"Although the FMLA provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave, only 60% of American workers are eligible under the law," the ACLU notes. "Because there is no federal requirement for paid parental leave, only 13% of private sector workers have access to such a benefit."
Last year, a then pregnant Whitney Tomilnson handed her supervisor at Walmart a note from her doctor recommending she not lift heavy items. Tomilnson, a single mother and packer at the Walmart Distribution Center in Atlanta, was told by her supervisor to see human resources after he read the note, according to an article from CNN.
Instead of accommodating Tomlinson, HR told her that she would have to apply for unpaid leave. HR told her she would not be allowed to go back to work until she had her baby and then would need to apply for a formal unpaid leave of absence to ensure she did not lose her job.
A compliant filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Tomlinson found that Walmart's actions were not legal. The National Women's Law Center notes that 22 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws giving pregnant employees the right to reasonable accommodations.
Despite this, a study by the National Partnership for Women & Families found that, based on EEOC data, almost 31,000 charges of pregnancy discrimination were filed with the agency and state-level agencies between October 2010 and September 2015.