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October 7, 2019

Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Three Workers at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach

LOS ANGELES — Union dockworker jobs, with six-figure incomes and generous benefits, are highly prized at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — but can be near impossible to attain if you're a worker who becomes pregnant.

Pregnant workers who are not yet union members are routinely denied access to job assignments that would allow them to keep working safely. But if they don't work, they stop earning seniority, which is the only route to the coveted full-time jobs and union membership.

The discrimination they suffer is not only unfair, it's also unlawful.

Today the American Civil Liberties Union Women's Rights Project, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California, and Feigen Law Group filed a lawsuit against the Pacific Maritime Association ("PMA") as bargaining representative for the operators of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, as well as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union ("ILWU") and its Local 13, for failing to provide accommodations for pregnant workers and maintaining a discriminatory promotion system.

The suit was filed on behalf of three women who are current non-union, so-called casual dockworkers, aspiring to eventually obtain full-time jobs and union membership.

The lawsuit charges PMA and the ILWU with violating the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, the California Pregnancy Disability Leave Law, the California Family Rights Act, and the state Unfair Competition Law.

The number of hours that casual dockworkers have to accumulate to move up to full-time positions and union membership is vast — in some cases more than 7,000 hours. That's especially daunting because work opportunities can be highly irregular for non-full-time workers.

Workers who are pregnant are especially at risk of falling behind in accumulating hours. If they refuse an assignment potentially hazardous to a pregnancy, they not only lose hours and pay, but will not have the chance to work again until their assigned work code comes up in rotation.

Relatively safe work assignments appropriate for pregnant people — such as clerical duties — do exist at the ports. But the defendants in the lawsuit failed to provide pregnant casual workers with these assignments, even though state law prohibits employers from refusing "to provide reasonable accommodation for an employee for a condition related to pregnancy" or from refusing to transfer a worker to a "less strenuous or hazardous position."

California law further requires that workers absent due to pregnancy disability earn seniority on the same terms as others who are absent. Indeed, PMA and the unions grant seniority to casual workers absent for military service. But they deny it to workers absent due to pregnancy.

The lawsuit also charges that the defendants refused to provide even the minimum lactation accommodations required by the California Labor Code for workers who want to breastfeed when they return to work after giving birth. The women filing today's case did not have a clean, safe place or adequate break time to pump breast milk during the workday, forcing them either to forgo work for extended periods or to give up breastfeeding their children altogether.

"Women make up 40 percent of the casual workforce at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, but you wouldn't know it from the policies of the PMA, ILWU, and Local 13," said Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Women's Rights Project. "Twenty years after a federal judge lifted a consent decree put in place to remedy sex discrimination, they still run the docks like women aren't even there. Our three clients have given the ports more than 30 years of service yet lag behind their peers in pay and seniority simply because they started families."

The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court in Los Angeles, seeks an injunction requiring PMA to implement reasonable accommodations for pregnant and breastfeeding casual workers and for all defendants to change their policies that penalize pregnant workers for their absences.

"Our clients wanted to stay on the job when they became pregnant, but PMA, ILWU, and Local 13 instead gave them an impossible choice: risk your pregnancy's health, or go home and lose pay and seniority," said Aditi Fruitwala, staff attorney with the ACLU SoCal. "We've spoken to casual workers who have miscarried after being assigned dangerous work assignments while pregnant, or who have worked until they've gone into labor out of desperation that they would lose seniority if they stopped working. California has long led the nation in recognizing that pregnancy shouldn't penalize workers; it's beyond time for the docks to catch up."

Read the lawsuit here: