Stock image of a pregnant person in a doctor's office, with a doctor holding a clip board of medication instructions. There are sonogram results on a table, along with a stethoscope.

Pregnant Workers’ Health and Livelihoods Face a New Threat

A Texas federal court has struck down a 2023 law creating protections for pregnant state workers based on its paltry costs.


In an appalling decision that took effect in March, a federal court in Texas took away the right of Texas state employees to protect women’s health, and enable them to keep their jobs, during pregnancy and while recovering from childbirth. 

It is notable that while the court ruled the entire Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 violated the U.S. Constitution’s quorum requirements, the court chose only to block enforcement of the bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA)—a landmark civil rights law included in the package that went into effect almost a year ago, on June 27, 2023. My organization A Better Balance launched and led the fight for over 10 years to pass this law, which finally guarantees millions of workers (including state employees) with known pregnancy-related limitations an affirmative right to reasonable accommodations so they’re no longer forced to choose between maintaining a healthy pregnancy and delivery and supporting their families. 

How did the court get there? The reasoning is astonishing. In significant part, the judge found the state established an “injury” by showing it would bear the small sum of  $6,600 in one-time costs for the Texas attorney general’s office to update policies and amend trainings to comply with the PWFA and a $5,200 annual cost to stay in compliance. 

But how can a “pro-life” attorney general, like the one who filed this lawsuit in Texas, contend that pregnant workers aren’t even worth the marginal dollar amounts it would cost the state to comply? These de minimis administrative costs pale in comparison to the unbearable health and economic costs incurred when pregnant and postpartum workers are unable to access the immediate relief they need to maintain a healthy pregnancy, or safe recovery from childbirth, and remain in the workforce. 

Consider women like Tasha Murrell, a pregnant warehouse worker from Tennessee, who worked for a national logistics company lifting heavy boxes during her 12-hour shifts. Tasha began experiencing extreme stomach pain and needed light-duty work, per doctor’s orders, to prevent pregnancy-related complications, but her boss refused to assist her. Shortly thereafter, Tasha suffered a miscarriage. Unfortunately, we’ve heard from countless women like Tasha on our free legal helpline who have experienced profound health complications—from premature birth to a worsening of pregnancy-related conditions like preeclampsia—simply because their employers refused to provide them basic, temporary accommodations at work. Her experience predated both the federal and Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Acts and she advocated alongside A Better Balance’s Southern Office for passage of both bills to advance maternal and infant health.

More recently a Texas prison worker sued the state, claiming she’d lost her baby because she was not allowed to leave her post while experiencing contraction-like pains related to her pregnancy. 

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We’ve also heard from scores of women who have not simply lost a paycheck, but have wound up food insecure or homeless weeks before childbirth. Women like Armanda Legros, who worked at an armored truck company on Long Island before she was pushed out of her job for needing light-duty work when she was six months pregnant. As Armanda bravely shared with lawmakers, “Once my baby arrived, just putting food on the table for him and my 4-year old was a challenge. I was forced to use water in his cereal at times because I could not afford milk.” And Natasha Jackson, a South Carolina retail worker who was also pushed out when she asked to avoid heavy lifting. As Natasha stated at a White House event, “I was our primary breadwinner at the time. We just made a down payment on a house. But without my income we had to back out of all of it. We then ended up homeless and needing emergency public housing all in a matter of months.”

As I shared at a 2019 Congressional hearing, and again in 2021, the problem stemmed both from individual unsympathetic managers and fundamental gaps in our nation’s legal protections for pregnant workers. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), a 1978 law intended to rout out centuries of employment discrimination, requires pregnant workers to muster evidence of discrimination in order to get something as basic as a water bottle at a workstation or to take an extra bathroom break. In fact, in over two-thirds of cases, courts have held that employers were permitted to deny pregnant workers accommodations under the PDA.  

The United States Chamber of Commerce joined other leading business groups in supporting the new law. In 2019, the Chamber wrote that “ensuring that expecting mothers have every option to stay active in the workforce is good for women, families, and business. This legislation reduces confusion by establishing clear guidelines and a balanced process that works for employers and employees alike.” 

But let’s face it. This recent Texas decision really isn’t about the pennies it would cost the state to comply or any potential administrative burden. By gutting protections for pregnant state workers, the opinion attempts to cement pregnant workers’ status as second-class citizens under the law and, yet again, deprive women of the right to control their reproductive lives.