University of the District of Columbia Law Review


Leslie Mullins


In a society where many topics related to female reproduction are considered taboo, menopause is especially stigmatized because of its intersection with age and a perception that a woman’s value ends with her reproductive ability.1 As described by Gail Sheehy (“Sheehy”) in The Silent Passage, menopause is “one of the most misunderstood passages in a woman's life.”2 Menopause causes shame and stigma because of its association with middle age in a culture obsessed with youth.3 The failure of courts to extend available protections to claims related to menopause denies millions of working persons protections from unlawful discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”).4 This paper provides an overview of what menopause is and how it affects menopausal employees at work. It further reviews the current state of jurisprudence related to the civil rights of menopausal employees and suggests an alignment for menopause equity with the menstrual, or period, equity movement. Section I provides a brief description of menopause and the common cultural stigmas faced by persons who enter menopause. Additionally, Section I provides an overview on how menopause and its related symptoms interferes with work for many menopausal employees. Section II analyzes ways in which current law has failed to address employment discrimination for menopausal workers. First, it examines judicial treatment of menopause under the ADA with respect to courts’ failure to recognize menopause as a cognizable disability. Next, it reviews judicial holdings where plaintiffs who have experienced discrimination related to menopause have made Title VII claims of discrimination on the basis of sex. Section III provides a brief review of intersectional menopause and age discrimination. Section IV discusses menopause equity as an extension of the menstrual, or period, equity movement, including the emerging view that the menstrual equity “tent” includes menstruators who are facing, experiencing, or have reached menopause.8 Finally, this article concludes by summarizing the need for focused advocacy, targeting legislation and regulatory policy, as well as raising awareness, to address the needs of menopausal persons, especially employees.

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