Saturday, January 19, 2013

Pregnancy Discrimination Alleged at Borough of Manhattan Community College

The National Women's Law Center filed a complaint this week, urging the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to investigate its claim that the Borough of Manhattan Community College -- part of the CUNY system -- discriminated against a student, Stephanie Stewart, on the basis of her pregnancy.  Stewart, an honors student, says a professor told her she would not be able to make up any tests or assignments missed as a result of her pregnancy, including any she might miss during labor and delivery.  Deans and other college officials backed up the professor's decision and advised her to drop the course -- ironically, it was a course called Roles of Women -- since she expected to give birth during the semester, which she did.  By withdrawing from the class, however, Stewart became ineligible for the merit scholarship she had been awarded.

Title IX regulations clarify that the statute's prohibition on sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.  Schools must treat pregnancy and childbirth "as a justification for a leave of absence for so long a period of time as is deemed medically necessary by the student's physician, at the conclusion of which the student shall be reinstated to the status which she held when the leave began."  Though Stewart wasn't requesting a leave of absence, the opportunity to make up and exam or assignment could easily be viewed as a similar, or "lesser included," accommodation that should be governed by this same regulatory provision. The professor and the college should have granted the accommodation, asking only for Stewart to make up any missed work as soon as she is medically able.  

If OCR agrees, and NWLC's allegations prove true, BMCC might be required to reinstate Stewart's scholarship and develop better policies for dealing with pregnant students.