Amicus Brief: Defending WESA Protections for Pregnant Workers
Earlier this month, Gender Justice submitted an amicus brief in Hinrichs-Cady v. Hennepin County, arguing that the protections of the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) apply to employees regardless of how long they have worked for their employer.
Whitney Hinrichs-Cady was working for Hennepin County as a social worker while she was pregnant, and while on the job her doctor provided her supervisor with a list of pregnancy accommodations to ensure her health and the health of her child. Hinrichs-Cady’s supervisor refused to grant her the accommodations, forced her to take unpaid leave, and then fired her when she returned to work after having her baby.
This is exactly the kind of discriminatory behavior that WESA is designed to prevent. WESA requires employers to provide certain accommodations for pregnant employees, including more frequent food, water, and restroom breaks, seating, and limits on lifting more than 20 pounds. But Hennepin County tried to argue that Hinrichs-Cady did not qualify as an “employee” under Minnesota law because she had worked there for less than 12 months. A state court of appeals rejected that argument and found that Hinrichs-Cady did deserve the pregnancy accommodations she asked for, but Hennepin County appealed that decision, which brought it to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Because Gender Justice is a leader in both the legislative fight to pass WESA and in the legal fight to advance gender equity in court, it was critical that we bring our legal expertise to bear in this first high court test of the WESA pregnancy protections. We argued not only that Hinrichs-Cady qualified as an employee deserving of workplace protections, but also that Hennepin County has no legal right to argue that her pregnancy accommodations created a significant burden on the organization.
Pregnant employees are not burdens. They are, by law, deserving of the exact same right to equitable, safe workplaces as everyone else. We’ll keep fighting to make sure every employer recognizes that right.