The American Cyanamid plant in Pleasants County, after refusing for decades to hire women, was required in the 1970's to open production jobs to female workers. In 1978, the plant instituted a "fetal protection policy" which barred all unsterilized women between the ages of sixteen and fifty from working with twenty-eight of the twenty-nine chemicals used at the plant; the chemical with which women were allowed to work was lead, and eventually the company offered women workers in that division the option of sterilization if they wanted to keep their jobs. Five women had the surgery done in Parkersburg. Here is a story on the event from the Time Trail of West Virginia.
October 2, 1978: Willow Island's American Cyanamid plant enforces fetal protection policy
American Cyanamid's decision to prohibit women of child-bearing age from working in production jobs at the company's plant at Willow Island in Pleasants County stemmed from the fear that certain chemicals might cause birth defects. In the late 1970s, the company began enforcing a fetal protection policy and, on October 2, 1978, American Cyanamid decided that women could only be exposed to lead. Since workers at the Willow Island plant were required to handle many different chemicals, this fetal protection policy had drastic consequences for women employees. Five women who worked in the plant's pigment department believed they had to be sterilized to keep their jobs.
In early 1979, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspected the Willow Island plant and fined American Cyanamid $10,000. OSHA contended the company's fetal protection policy constituted a hazard of employment because it had, in effect, coerced women into sterilization. It also noted that exposure to lead at the plant was equally dangerous to men and should be cleaned up. American Cyanamid ended up shutting down the pigment department.
The company successfully challenged OSHA's decision the following year. A review committee agreed to set aside the citation, concluding the fetal protection policy was not a hazard to workers.
Meanwhile, the women who were sterilized to keep their jobs sought legal relief and the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers union agreed to help them appeal the case. Separately, 13 women from the plant filed a suit against American Cyanamid, alleging violations of the federal Civil Rights Act.
The union's case ended up before federal judge Robert Bork, who, in 1984, found in favor of the company. Bork ruled the fetal protection policy wasn't hazardous because the women had the option of surgical sterilization. The civil rights case was dropped after 3 1/2 years of pre-trial proceedings. In 1983, the women accepted a settlement from the company.
For more information, go here: JSTOR: University of Pennsylvania Law Review: Vol. 133, No. 5, p. 1167
Here is more information from jrank.org.
The 1991 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared fetal protection policies to be a violation of CIVIL RIGHTS laws came too late for five women from West Virginia who were forced by their employer to choose between undergoing a sterilization procedure to avoid health risks associated with their higher paying jobs, remaining fertile but moving to lower paying jobs, or quitting their jobs altogether (International Union, UAW v. Johnson Controls, Inc., 499 U.S. 187, 111 S. Ct. 1196, 113 L. Ed. 2d 158 ). The women worked at an American Cyanamid factory in Willow Island, a poor region where decent-paying jobs were scarce. They were all among the first women to work in these factories, which, before 1974, had employed only men.
In 1978 the company introduced a policy that no fertile women would be allowed to work in its lead pigments department. The company claimed that hazardous chemicals in that department might harm women's reproductive system. Fertile women under age 50 would have to be sterilized or take jobs in other areas of the company, virtually all of which paid less. Men, whose reproductive system might also be damaged by lead, were not subject to restrictions.
The seven women then employed in the lead pigments department found themselves facing an agonizing choice: whether to reduce or sacrifice their income or undergo a surgical procedure that would render them unable to bear children. Five of the women chose sterilization.
The LABOR UNION to which the women belonged eventually took the women's case to court, claiming that the company's fetal protection policy represented a violation of federal occupational safety standards because it required an individual to be sterilized in order to be eligible for work. The union lost the case in the federal appeals court (Oil, Chemical, & Atomic Workers International Union v. American Cyanamid Co., 741 F.2d 444 [D.C. Cir. 1984]). However in the 1991 Supreme Court ruling, this decision was reversed.
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