Women At Work

In the world of the last few decades, work and family patterns have undergone dramatic upheaval. Among many other changes our society hasn't yet come to grips with is the major influx of women into the job market. According to Newsweek magazine, approximately 65 percent of women of child-bearing age are now in the U.S. work force, and 90 percent of them have had or will have children during their working lives.

Such statistics have made issues regarding women and their roles in society among the hottest and most volatile topics in the political arena. Feminist organizations are reigniting the battle for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, while conservative forces, under the rhetoric of "pro-family," are marshaling allies in their effort to keep women at home.

Into the fray came two mid-January Supreme Court decisions regarding pregnant women in the work force. On January 13 the high court upheld state laws requiring employers to give female workers up to four months of unpaid pregnancy disability leave, guaranteeing reinstatement of their jobs on their return. The case, California Federal Savings and Loan v. Guerra, ruled in favor of Lillian Garland, a receptionist at the Los Angeles-based bank who lost her job after three months' pregnancy leave.

Eight days later, in a decision that had ramifications for the vast majority of working women who reside in states without job protection laws such as California's, the court ruled that federal law does not require states to pay unemployment compensation to women who leave work to have babies and consequently lose their jobs. The loser in this case, Wimberly v. Labor and Industrial Relations Commission of Missouri, was Linda Wimberly, a cashier at a J.C. Penney Co. store in Kansas City, Missouri. Wimberly took a leave of absence in 1980 to have a baby and was told there were no jobs when she asked to return to work a few months later.

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