In Bradwell v. State, an 1872 decision upholding an Illinois law prohibiting women from practicing law, the United States Supreme Court reasoned that the law was justified because women belonged in the “domestic sphere.” While today’s sex-based workplace exclusions are not as explicit as they once were, women still face barriers to remaining in the workforce and advancing in the workplace despite the existence of major federal legislation in the areas of pregnancy discrimination and family leave policy. Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) in 1978 to stop pregnancy discrimination, but the PDA has not come close to eliminating pregnancy discrimination. Similarly, despite Congress’s passing of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 1993, ineffective family leave policy continues to hinder women’s ability to balance work and their disproportionate family caregiving obligations. After tracing the development of sex-based workplace exclusions from the 1870s through the 1970s, this Note argues that the PDA and FMLA prohibited explicit sex-based workplace exclusions while preserving other forms of sex-based workplace exclusions. This Note then analyzes proposed work-family legislation and argues that policies aimed at eliminating sex-based workplace exclusions must account for the specific experiences of women while promoting anti-stereotyping principles.
The Preservation of the Separate Spheres Doctrine in Congress and the Federal Courts,
Mich. J. Gender & L.
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mjgl/vol30/iss1/5