I write to request your assistance regarding upcoming votes for our Caucus. As you are aware, I am in the final weeks of my pregnancy, and have been instructed by my physician not to travel. As a result, I will not be attending the upcoming Caucus meetings in person. I would like to request a proxy vote on the upcoming leadership and ranking member elections that will come before the Caucus in the coming weeks
The denial comes amidst a leadership fight that will offer little drama at the top, but plenty for the top seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, where retiring Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.) is vacating his post. According to the National Journal, Duckworth's request also got jumbled up with a request by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), who also requested a proxy vote because she has to attend a funeral.
Though some backed Duckworth, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) both wanted to hold firm on the no-proxy-vote rule:
"Congresswoman DeLauro does not want to set a precedent. There are many meritorious situations where the argument could be made for a waiver, including Congresswoman Duckworth's. The question is, how do you choose?" said DeLauro spokeswoman Sara Lonardo, in a statement to the National Journal.
For Democrats, who have framed themselves as the party of working women, this does put them in an awkward position. It comes, for instance, as the Supreme Court is set to decide a case about pregnant workers' rights involving United Parcel Service and a pregnant woman who sued them for discrimination. UPS recently reversed its decision and, starting Jan. 1, will offer light duty to pregnant workers.
At issue is whether pregnant workers should be afforded the same type of legal protections as disabled workers who would be allowed special accommodations that would allow them to do their jobs. (Duckworth, for what it's worth, is also an amputee, but that is not mentioned in her request.)
President Obama has repeatedly called on Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, (PWFA), and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed federal lawsuits recently against companies, alleging that women were fired after their pregnancy was revealed in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which doesn't expressly mandate that employees make accommodations for pregnant women.
In July, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new guidelines that made clear to employers that it is illegal not to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers.
The PWFA has 33 co-sponsors, (all Democrats and one independent), and the decision on Duckworth is interesting in light of what that bill is pushing for (emphasis mine):
Pregnant Workers Fairness Act -- Declares it an unlawful employment practice for employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, and other specified entities to: (1) fail to make reasonable accommodations to known limitations related to the pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions of job applicants or employees, unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on such an entity's business operation; (2) deny employment opportunities based on the need of the entity to make such reasonable accommodations; (3) require such job applicants or employees to accept an accommodation that they choose not to accept; or (4) require such employees to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided to their known limitations.
Under those rules, it would be difficult to see how allowing Duckworth a proxy vote, which would be a reasonable accommodation, imposes undue hardship on House Democrats.
For now, Duckworth appears to have accepted the decision.
“I submitted a request to the Caucus to allow for a proxy vote due to my pregnancy," Duckworth said in a statement. "The Caucus chose not to allow me to vote via proxy. I respect the process and very much appreciated my colleagues who made sure my request was considered.”