The House, facing blowback about a controversial one-word change in a pregnant workers’ rights bill, has backed down, saying it will remove the phrase that threatened a much-touted compromise between women’s rights advocates and the state’s business lobby.
In a statement Friday, a spokesman for Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said the legislative leader made the move to ensure that the House-approved bill gets quick approval in the Senate and is sent to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk.
DeLeo’s move came a day after the Globe reported that the legislation’s original language, stating that an employer cannot “refuse to hire a person who is pregnant,’’ was changed in the House Ways and Means Committee by inserting the word “knowingly” before “refuse.”
“Because Speaker DeLeo remains committed to speedy passage of these important protections for pregnant workers, the House will remove that word,’’ press aide Seth Gitell said.
“As always, the House is receptive to newly raised concerns as a bill moves through the process,’’ Gitell added.
Advocates say the one-word addition would have created a serious new burden of proof for a pregnant worker who believed there was discrimination in her denial of a job. Gitell said it was added on the recommendation of the House counsel to “clarify the law.”
It went unnoticed by both the advocacy group, a Hadley-based nonprofit called MotherWoman, and the state’s largest business lobby, Associated Industries of Massachusetts.
The flare-up comes after several months of negotiations between the advocates and AIM. Those talks followed a Globe story outlining how AIM, which has influence in the House leadership, had used its political muscle to kill the bill last year.
Since then, DeLeo pushed both sides to negotiate a compromise. That legislation passed the House unanimously May 10 and went to the Senate.
But, as it made its way through the House, there was no disclosure by the leadership of the addition of the word “knowingly.” Only in the last few days did advocates, who have declined to comment, discover the change, according to sponsors of the bill.
An AIM spokesman said the business group did know of the change made by the House. Linda O’Connell, MotherWoman’s acting executive director, did not respond to a request for comment.Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.