News Law and Policy

Law School Admissions Test Makes Accommodations for Nursing Mothers

Sheila Bapat

Until just a few weeks ago, new mothers who were applying to law school were in a pretty unforgiving situation while taking the LSAT: they were not allowed any extra breaks during the lengthy exam so that they could pump breast milk or nurse their babies.

UPDATED Tuesday, June 26, 2:52PM.

Generating enormous discussion through her piece in the Atlantic published last week, former director of policy planning for the US State Department Anne-Marie Slaughter writes movingly about challenges women face in achieving work-life balance. Slaughter’s piece discusses the emotional need she felt to be present for her children despite how illustrious the position made her already outstanding career as a tenured Princeton professor.

Yet beyond the emotional pull of which Slaughter’s article reminds us, real legal and policy barriers persist that make work-life balance, or career ascendancy, genuinely challenging for mothers. Pregnancy itself is a source of major constraints.

Case in point: applying to law school. The process typically involves a fair amount of agonizing over personal statements and securing strong references, but above all else, it requires an LSAT score that will impress admissions deans. I took the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) in 2003, and if I recall correctly the exam took a little over four hours. I was a young, single woman without a care in the world, but the LSAT was about as fun as stabbing myself in the eye repeatedly.

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Just imagine the stress and discomfort felt by a new mother still nursing her baby: zipping through LSAT logic and reading comprehension questions while simultaneously figuring out when she can pump her breast milk or nurse. Until just a few weeks ago, new mothers who were applying to law school were in a pretty unforgiving situation while taking the LSAT: they were not allowed any extra breaks during the lengthy exam so that they could pump breast milk or nurse their babies. 

The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), the committee that administers the LSAT, had a longstanding policy of not allowing test-taking modifications for lactating mothers because, as the ACLU points out, lactating mothers were not considered “disabled.” 

Happily, on June 1, the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) approved a new policy that will let mothers take necessary breaks to nurse their babies or pump breast milk. For up to a year following the birth of their child, mothers can request a modification in test taking procedure such as extended breaks to pump or nurse.

The ACLU, along with Law Students for Reproductive Justice and other organizations, worked to achieve this policy turnaround after being contacted by MomsRising. One of MomsRising’s members was denied a lactation-related modification in her test taking procedure and MomsRising reached out to the ACLU on her behalf.

Kudos to LSAC for coming around — and extra kudos for MomsRising, ACLU, and LSRJ for their effective advocacy — but it’s an unfortunate policy LSAC had in the first place, especially given the number of women vying to get into law school. Nearly fifty percent of law school graduatestoday are women. True, not all of these women are mothers — but the evolving gender demographics of law school applicants surely should have been a sign that the policy ought to evolve as well.

Even though there are more women working outside the home than ever in U.S. history, sitting for the LSAT is far from the only time breastfeeding women have faced unfriendly policies. In fact, longstanding federal law still does not adequately protect pregnant or breastfeeding women. 

Barry University law professor Heather Kolinsky points out the limitations of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 in her article, Respecting Working Mothers with Infant Children: The Need for Increased Federal Intervention to Develop, Protect and Support a Breastfeeding Culture in the United States.” 

Kolinsky explains that neither the PDA nor the ADA have been consistently interpreted to protect discrimination women face when breastfeeding. The PDA is narrowly interpreted to cover women who are pregnant or experiencing some pregnancy-related condition but are fully capable of performing any job or function, thus leaving out women who face discrimination professionally because their pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition prevents them from performing all of their expected duties.

With respect to the ADA, courts have found that breastfeeding mothers are simply not within the definition of “disabled” — mirroring LSAC’s former policy. 

Glimmers of reform exist with a new bill introduced in Congress in May called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) that could potentially provide breastfeeding women with a cause of action. The PWFA could also fill in a number of other gaps that the PDA and ADA have been unable to address for pregnant women, such as access to light-duty work assignments for pregnant women in physically rigorous positions.

The emotional challenges Slaughter discusses are probably toughest to address, and it will take many more generations to really crack the old “work-life balance” question. But in the meantime, lurking policy limitations should be reformed, nipped or reversed — just the way LSAC has demonstrated is possible.

Commentary Politics

Milwaukee Officials: Black Youth, Single Mothers Are Not Responsible for Systemic Failings—You Are

Charmaine Lang

Milwaukee has multiple problems: poverty, a school system that throws out Black children at high rates, and lack of investment in all citizens' quality of life. But there's another challenge: politicians and law enforcement who act as if Black youth, single mothers, and families are the "real" reasons for the recent uprising and say so publicly.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

On the day 23-year-old Sylville Smith was killed by a Milwaukee police officer, the city’s mayor, Tom Barrett, pleaded publicly with parents to tell their children to come home and leave protests erupting in the city.

In a August 13 press conference, Barrett said: “If you love your son, if you love your daughter, text them, call them, pull them by the ears, and get them home. Get them home right now before more damage is done. Because we don’t want to see more loss of life, we don’t want to see any more injuries.”

Barrett’s statement suggests that parents are not on the side of their sons and daughters. That parents, too, are not tired of the inequality they experience and witness in Milwaukee, and that youth are not capable of having their own political ideologies or moving their values into action.

It also suggests how much work Milwaukee’s elected officials and law enforcement need to do before they open their mouths.

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Barrett’s comments came after Smith fled a traffic stop and was shot by authorities on Milwaukee’s northwest side. The young Black man’s death sparked an urban uprising in the Sherman Park neighborhood, an area known for its racial and religious diversity. Businesses were burnt down, and the National Guard was activated in a city plagued by racism and poverty.

But Milwaukee parents and families need more than a directive thinly disguised as a plea. And Mayor Barrett, who was re-elected to a fourth term in April, should know well that Milwaukee, the nation’s most racially stratified city, needs racial equity in order for there to be peace and prosperity.

I live in Milwaukee, so I know that its residents, especially its Black parents, do love their children. We want more for them than city-enforced curfews and a simplistic solution of returning to their homes as a way to restore calm. We will have calm when we have greater investment in the public school system and youth services; easy access to healthy food; and green spaces, parks, and neighborhoods that are free from police harassment.

In fact, according to staggering statistics about Milwaukee and Wisconsin as a whole, Black people have been consistently denied their basic human rights and health. Wisconsin has the highest rate of incarceration of Black men nationwide; the Annie E. Casey Foundation has found it is the worst state for racial disparities affecting Black childrenand infant mortality rates are highest among Black women in the state.

What we absolutely don’t need are public officials whitewashing the facts: that Milwaukee’s young people have much to protest, including Wisconsin’s suspending Black high-school students more than any other state in the country.

Nor do we need incendiary comments like those coming from Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who drew national attention for his “blue lives matter” speech at the Republican National Convention and who is a regular guest on CNN and Fox News. In an August 15 op-ed published by the Hill, Clarke has called the civil unrest “the rule of the jungle,” “tribalism,” and a byproduct of “bullies on the left.”

He went even further, citing “father-absent homes” as a source of what he calls “urban pathologies”—leaning on old tropes used to stigmatize Black women, families, and the poor.

Single mothers are not to be blamed for young people’s responses to a city that ignores or criminalizes them. They should not be shamed for having children, their family structure, or for public policy that has made the city unsafe for parenting.

Creating justice—including reproductive justice—in Milwaukee will take much more than parents texting their teens to come home. The National Guard must leave immediately. Our leaders must identify anti-Black racism as a root cause of the uprisings. And, lastly, creating justice must start with an end to harmful rhetoric from officials who lead the way in ignoring and dehumanizing Milwaukee residents.

Sheriff Clarke has continued his outrageous comments. In another interview, he added he wouldn’t “be satisfied until these creeps crawl back into their holes so that the good law-abiding people that live in the Milwaukee ghetto can return to at least a calm quality of life.”

Many of Milwaukee’s Black families have never experienced calm. They have not experienced a city that centers their needs and voices. Black youth fed up with their treatment are not creeps.

And what hole do you think they should crawl back into? The hole where they face unemployment, underemployment, police brutality, and racism—and face it without complaint? If that’s the case, you may never be satisfied again, Sheriff.

Our leaders shouldn’t be content with Milwaukee’s status quo. And asking the citizens you serve to be quiet in the ghetto is an insidious expectation.

News Law and Policy

Colorado Law Requires ‘Reasonable Accommodations’ for Pregnant Workers

Jason Salzman

In signing this bill into law Wednesday, Gov. John Hickenlooper added Colorado to a growing list of states that have passed laws requiring worker protections for employees who are pregnant or have related conditions.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law a bill Wednesday requiring “reasonable accommodations” for workers who are pregnant, recovering from childbirth, or suffer from pregnancy related medical conditions.

The accommodations may include: longer or more frequent breaks for food or water, modified schedules, adjusted seating arrangements, assistance with manual labor, “light duty,” and more. But the law specifically states that an employer is not required to hire, transfer, or fire an employee to make such accommodations on behalf of a pregnant person, unless such actions were already planned or would be reasonable.

The bill, HB 1438, garnered bipartisan support in Colorado’s divided legislature, drawing “no” votes only from Republicans, such as state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (Colorado Springs), state Rep. Stephen Humphrey (Severance), and Sen. Randy Baumgardner (Hot Sulphur Springs).

All house and senate Democrats backed HB 1438.

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The intent of the general assembly, the bill states, is “to combat pregnancy discrimination, promote public health, and ensure full and equal protection for women in the labor force by requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with conditions related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related condition.”

Pro-choice advocates see HB 1438 as advancing reproductive justice in the state.

“Our mission is advocating for reproductive justice and ensuring every woman has the right and the ability make her own health care choices,” said Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, in a news release. “And when women do choose to have children, workplaces should respect that choice, not discriminate, and accommodate their needs on the job.”

Opponents of the bill worry that the law will have a negative effect on businesses and jobs.

“I didn’t have a tenacious opposition to the bill,” state Sen. Chris Holbert (R-Parker) told Rewire. “But I’m concerned that this is another requirement for employers, making it more difficult for them to hire or keep people employed.”

At least 17 states, including California, New York, and Texas, have passed similar laws providing different levels of protection.

However, a bill this year to provide pregnancy accommodations in Washington state cleared the Republican-controlled senate but died in the hands of GOP house members.

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 clarified that it’s sex discrimination to discriminate based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions. A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling held that employers are in violation of the PDA if they don’t accommodate pregnant workers as they would accommodate their non-pregnant employees.

Federal legislation with expanded protections and accommodations, called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, has stalled in Congress, even though it has some bipartisan support.

In 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a non-binding guidance on pregnancy discrimination, stating that in the years since the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed, charges “alleging pregnancy discrimination have increased substantially.”

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