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October 24, 1990

Can Employers Exclude Women to Protect Children?

Author Affiliations

From The University of Chicago (III) Law School.

From The University of Chicago (III) Law School.

JAMA. 1990;264(16):2113-2117. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03450160083035

SHOULD an employer be able to require that a woman be sterile to qualify for a production job in a lead-battery plant? The Supreme Court is poised to answer this question in International Union v Johnson Controls.1 The key legal issue is whether this policy violates Title VII, the federal antidiscrimination statute applicable to employment.

To date, six cases raising this issue or similar issues have reached federal or state courts of appeals.2 In two of these cases, hospitals fired pregnant roentgenogram technicians, causing them to lose income and possible medical insurance. The courts decided in favor of the pregnant technicians, finding that the decisions to terminate employment were a form of sexual discrimination because the employers had not explored alternatives less restrictive than firing pregnant workers.3

In the other four cases, employers hired women for certain jobs only if they could not bear children. These cases