The APA Committee on the Status of Women responds to Penn State

16 September 2013

David Gray, Senior Vice President for Finance and Business

Susan Basso, Vice President for Human Resources

Penn State University

University Park, Pennsylvania

Dear Mr. Gray and Ms. Basso:

According to an article in the 10 September Centre Daily Times and the 15 September New York Times, a health risk assessment questionnaire that is part of Penn State’s new employee wellness program asks women employees whether they plan to get pregnant in the next year. If the employee refuses to disclose this she is penalized $100 for every month she fails to yield up the information.

By requiring women employees to disclose information about their sex lives, Penn State violates their privacy rights and likely violates their rights under federal law (Title VII and The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Title IX, privacy law, and equal protection). Highmark, Penn State’s health care provider, targets women employees by imposing on them a special burden of disclosure about their sexual intent. Are male employees required to disclose their intended sexual activity over the year? To avoid paying a fine, is a woman employee forced to lie? And if she has no plans but becomes pregnant accidentally, does that increase her insurance premiums?

In a culture where women’s bodies are socially policed from early childhood until well past menopause, it is particularly unethical to force a female employee to reveal her reproductive intentions to a corporation whose interest is in making profits—an interest that directly conflicts with the woman’s interest in retaining sovereignty over her body. We members of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women urge you in the strongest possible terms to direct Highmark to cease this practice immediately.

Sincerely,

Hilde Lindeman (signed)

Chair,  the American Philosophical Association Committee on the Status of Women

for CSW.

9 thoughts on “The APA Committee on the Status of Women responds to Penn State

  1. I agree that Penn State should not be asking this question, and it certainly should not be penalizing women who refuse to answer. In fairness, they are not asking for information on female employees’ sex lives; it’s a question about their family plans. It would have been better put, however, had they asked if the women in question were “planning on having a child in the following 21 months”.

    One total non sequitir in the letter, though, is the claim that for-profit corporations (what is she referring to? Not Penn State, right?) have interests which “directly conflicts with the woman’s interest in retaining sovereignty over her body”. What does that even mean? Is she saying that profits conflict with “sovereignty over [one’s] body”? What is an “interest in retaining” sovereignty? Is that different from sovereignty? Why couldn’t I incorporate a company whose business plan centers on protecting women’s interests in retaining sovereignty over their own bodies? What does the manufacture of Twinkies (e.g.) have to do with any of this?

  2. “In fairness, they are not asking for information on female employees’ sex lives;”

    You are aware of the most common method of becoming pregnant, aren’t you?

  3. “for-profit corporations (what is she referring to? Not Penn State, right?”

    She says whom she refers to in the previous paragraph: “Highmark, Penn State’s health care provider, targets women employees by imposing on them a special burden of disclosure about their sexual intent.”

  4. Matt, your comment does not seem helpful; sarcasm usually isn’t. To my ear, it doesn’t sound right to say that asking whether someone is planning to have a child is thus asking them to “disclose information about their sex lives”. Just imagine that you’re having a conversation with a married acquaintance of yours and you ask if they’re thinking about having kids. It would not be appropriate for that person to become upset and reply, “Why are you asking me about my sex life?” That would be a bizarre, inappropriate, and unfair reaction. Of course, even this reasonable question coming from a friend might be, and in my view is, inappropriate coming from an employer.

    beta, thanks.

  5. I would not ask casual friends if they are trying to have a child. I suspect the penn state question similarly goes over the line.

    I haven’t see the questions, and wonder if we aren’t going to waste time discussion.

  6. I am a penn state assistant professor – and I did fill out the survey, which did ask if I planned to become pregnant in the next year, although this was the only questions that violates my rights -there were many questions on depression and alcohol use (a whole page of each) that I found even more invasive and wrong – there just aren’t laws in place to protect us from them.

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