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NYC university clarifies maternity leave policies

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 1, 2013 at 9:14 pm •  Published: May 1, 2013
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NEW YORK (AP) — After a legal complaint, one of the country's largest university systems has agreed to remind professors that pregnant students should be given an opportunity to make up classwork they miss while taking time off to give birth.

The City University of New York was the target of a federal discrimination complaint in January by a 27-year-old honors student from Manhattan. The student, Stephanie Stewart, said she had to quit a class last year after a professor told her she wouldn't be allowed to miss any tests or assignments, even though she was pregnant and due to deliver the baby before the end of the semester.

Dropping the class, a course on the role of women in society, caused Stewart to lose a merit-based scholarship.

In a settlement announced Wednesday by the National Women's Law Center, the university agreed to send a memo to all professors and administrators reminding them that all schools getting government funding are required to give pregnant students the same options to make up work that they give to pupils who suffer illnesses or injuries that cause them to miss classes.

The university also restored Stewart's scholarship and gave her about $3,000 to cover expenses. She is now in her final semester at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, which is part of the CUNY system.

"I feel like this is a victory not just for me, but for all the students in the university," Stewart said.

Lara Kaufmann, senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, praised CUNY for its quick response to the discrimination claim. She said many college professors across the country don't realize that Title IX of the 1972 federal education law, the same rule that requires equal opportunities for women in college sports, also applies to women who may miss classes or tests because of a pregnancy.

"Often colleges will leave it up to professors to set rules for makeup work. And that's fine, as long as the professors know and understand the rules. But many don't," Kaufmann said.

"We see a lot of students being discouraged from staying in school, and being told they should drop out and re-enroll after they have their babies ... A lot of programs are refusing to work with students," she said.

Stewart's experience with professors at CUNY was mixed, she said. A majority of instructors were helpful and happily accommodated her when she informed them that her baby was due very close to the end of the semester. Only one, a female professor who taught courses on feminism, did not.

"I just wanted a chance to prove myself as a student," said Stewart, adding that she took all her other final exams on time with her classmates.

A CUNY spokesman, Michael Arena, called the incident isolated but said the university would renew efforts to communicate its longstanding non-discrimination policies to the faculty and staff.

"The colleges will also provide more training in this area to ensure that the policy is properly applied and that the rights of expectant mothers continue to be respected and safeguarded," he said.

CUNY has 480,000 full-time, part-time and continuing-education students at 24 campuses in New York City. Many of the students who attend its seven community colleges are young mothers.