Citizen Testimony: Stop Discriminating Against Moms!

Action Network Member Kiki Peppard, pictured left
From Palmerton, PA
Testimony before the Pennsylvania Labor and Industry Committee Public Hearing
June 5 2014

To the Honorable Members of the House Labor and Industry Committee:

Thank you for this opportunity to testify before you regarding House Bill 2271.  Passage of this legislation would prohibit discrimination against workers based on marital/familial status.  I would like to open my testimony by asking two simple questions.

#1 – Would each one of you and everyone in this room to please raise your hand if you have a mother (alive or deceased).  Please do so now.  As you look around the room you will see a unanimous vote.  Everyone has a mother.  This is as indisputable as the old “birds and the bees” story.   Please put your hands down.  If we all have a mom, why aren’t we supporting all moms in Pennsylvania?

My next question is for every man in this room:  How many of you have been asked during a job interview when you plan to impregnate a woman?  Do you find this insulting?  Invasive?  Maybe even perverse?  Certainly not relevant to your job qualifications, skills and experience is it?  In Pennsylvania, according to the archaic Human Relations Act of 1955 – we call it legal.  No, I didn’t think any man was ever asked that question but I am sitting before you today to tell you that I know of many women who are asked during a job interview when they plan to become pregnant.  This question is sometimes asked even before a review of their resume by the interviewer.

My story has been told numerous times of my first 19 job interviews where I was denied employment because I had to reveal the fact that I was a single mom during the job interview.  The stigma attached to both married and single moms as being undependable, unreliable employees has gone on long enough.  Have you heard comments like “they take too much time off from work to care for their kids”?  I don’t know what quantifies as “too much time” but I do know that a child with untreated strep throat can lead to complications of rheumatic heart disease.  I do know that children cannot drive themselves to the pediatrician.  And I do know that while employers may label us as unreliable, if we do not get the proper medical care that our children need, Child Protective Services would label us as “neglectful”.

I don’t know why or what employers and society have against single moms or married moms.  They feel it is OK to treat us differently – most particularly – unfairly.  We’re not all candidates for MTV’s Teen Mom show.

Let me tell you who single mothers are:  women who have lost their husbands in the war are single mothers. Women who have survived spousal abuse and who have divorced their husband are single mothers. Widows of 9/11 are single mothers. Maybe even your own mother may be a single mother.    Paints a different picture when you look at it this way doesn’t it?

The employment discrimination that exists applies to married mothers, single mothers and married and single females without children.  I have heard countless stories of women who recently graduated college, some at the top of their class, with thousands of dollars in student loan debt anxious to embark on their careers only to be asked during a job interview, “so when do you plan to have children”.  What about her GPA?  Skills, Talents, Abilities, Education????  There is more of a misaligned focus on her reproductive capability than her ability to perform the job.  What if this was your daughter, sister, or wife that this happened to?  Wouldn’t you be offended?  Outraged? Or as other legislators who have fought against this legislation before you, do you find it totally acceptable to interrogate women on their childbearing and reproductive status when they are trying to get a job?

It is not acceptable!  This is never, ever done to men in the workplace.  Why is it OK in Pennsylvania to do this to our women?

I have been fighting to get this legislation changed for twenty very long years.  I would like to tell you why it has not passed:

One legislator told me “off the record” that he was afraid that if the Human Relations Act were opened then the gays would fight to legalized marriage.

One legislator who was a committee chairperson had been in office for numerous decades.  Talk about profiling:  He was an elderly bachelor with no children.  He deliberately held up the legislation every single session.  Eventually he brought it to his committee but only on the last day of the session.   The only reason he did so was because a reporter from a TV station brought the camera to his office asking him point blank why he didn’t take action on it.

There was one senator (who was a committee chair) whose staff member told me that I had to send in letters from people wanting the legislation passed.  I collected and sent in hundreds of petitions and letters.  I called to find out the status and the aide said he just threw those letters in a drawer because the senator now wants letters from his “own” constituents only.

When that senator died mid-session, his successor told the newspapers that this issue didn’t affect his constituents so he wouldn’t take action on it.

I actually stopped fighting for this most worthwhile cause when I moved to Palmerton in Carbon County.  I called my House Representative member seeking his support in re-introducing legislation.  He said that not only would he never do such a thing, if legislation were introduced, he would do all in his powers to fight it.  He didn’t want any rights taken away from businesses.  I explained to him that this legislation isn’t against a business owner’s rights.  A business owner should hire the best qualified candidate for a job.  A business owner should have the final say as to whom he/she wants working for him or her.  A business owner does not have the right to interrogate women – married or single – about their reproductive status during the course of a job interview and that is what this is all about.

Ever since that fateful day and that conversation, I made some crucial decisions.  I gave up my battle.  I also stopped voting.  I had not missed an election since I turned 18 years old.  I voted in every primary, every single election for 42 years and I did so with pride.  When my new legislator, the father of two daughters showed me his true colors that his loyalty was solely with his campaign contributors (meaning big business) rather than the rights of women, I was sickened.  I wondered if he went home that evening, kissed his wife and daughters, then looked at himself in the mirror and felt proud of what he did that day and the message he gave me that women don’t matter.

This is the last time you will hear me plead to you to pass this legislation that will give ALL of the women in Pennsylvania (not only your own constituents) the right to interview for a job with dignity.  I hope I have convinced you that it is time – it is past time to pass this legislation.

When you go home tonight and you look at your mother, your wife, your daughters or your granddaughters, will you tell them what you did at work today?  Will you tell them, “hey, guess what!  Today I voted against HB2271 so women can continue to be humiliated in job interviews – that includes you and every female in Pennsylvania!

Or, will you finally take a stand for us and look them in the eye and say, “Today I made a difference.  Today I voted to support HB2271 so that you and everyone in the Commonwealth will interview for a job and given an opportunity to discuss your worth, your talents, your abilities, and your experiences.  You will be valued for who you are – and I made that happen at work today.  That’s why I ran for office.  That’s why I am in office.  To make a positive difference in the life of all Pennsylvanians – especially women and children.

The Declaration of Independence may have been signed in Pennsylvania, but until you pass this legislation, women, especially mothers, will go on without their independence and freedom to interview for a job with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Thank you.

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