By John Sherman
In 1978 the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed, protecting women from being fired or discriminated against due to pregnancy. Yet in 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received almost 3,500 pregnancy discrimination charges. There were more cases of pregnancy discrimination filed in 2016 than in 1992. And those are just the cases that were filed, not taking into account the thousands of women who never moved forward with complaints. Startling, to say the least.
Pregnancy discrimination can take many different forms. In some cases, mothers return to work after their maternity leave ends only to find out they have been demoted or placed in a new position. In other cases, a woman is fired simply for announcing her pregnancy. That type of case seems almost too blatant. But shockingly enough, it happens. And then there are countless other situations of pregnancy discrimination that occur every day in U.S. companies.
What the Law Says
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was enacted to ensure that pregnant employees or “women affected by childbirth” are treated the same as childless workers. More recently the EEOC updated its expectations and guidelines to make clear that pregnant workers with a medical condition such as gestational diabetes, should be granted reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disability Act.
Far too often, employers refuse to grant pregnant workers accommodations based on medical needs. A problem this recent update by the EEOC hopes to curb.
The “Motherhood Penalty”
According to the The Atlantic, “Studies from 2004 and 2010 have shown that mothers start at a lower pay than their coworkers, make less money over time, and they receive raises and promotions less often than their colleagues—that is, when they’re kept around.” Employers and co-workers also commonly believe, incorrectly, that mothers don’t work as hard and aren’t as capable as their male or single women colleagues.
“The “motherhood penalty” is alive and well. When sociologist Shelley Correll and her colleagues sent out more than 1,200 fake résumés to employers in a large Northeastern city, mothers were significantly less likely than either childless women or fathers with identical qualifications to get interviews,” said the Washington Post.
A University of New Mexico study, reported by NPR, found that moms earn 14% less than childless women. Women also fall short, across every sector, when it comes to occupying leadership positions. The bias towards working mothers and women is evident, yet the perceptions are unfounded. In fact, many studies have shown quite the opposite. A Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis study concluded that mothers were actually more productive in their jobs than childless women.
In the News
It’s companies of all sizes and across every industry that are being accused of pregnancy discrimination. Since 2014, according to the EEOC, pregnancy discrimination resolutions have increased 17%. In the summer of 2015, AutoZone was ordered to pay an unprecedented $185 million in punitive damages to a former employee who claimed that after she became pregnant she was demoted, relocated and her wages cut. When she returned and asked for her job back her supervisor refused to promote her. Ultimately she was fired.
These types of situations are all too common. Unfortunately, many women don’t want to go through with a formal complaint or workplace lawsuit, which only perpetuates the situation and allows the mistreatment of pregnant women to continue and misperceptions of working mothers to prevail.
Why Many Women Don’t File Complaints
Unfortunately, many women don’t file complaints or stand up for their rights when faced with pregnancy discrimination. The reasons are many but the top 4 most common reasons women site are:
- Feeling guilty
- Believing that filing a law suit against their employer will ruin their career
- An ignorance on the law
- Don’t think they have enough evidence
While pregnancy discrimination filings are going up each year, the reasons listed above stop a large majority of women from moving forward with a complaint. For these women, the alternative is usually to either find a new job or accept an uncomfortable or hostile working environment.
If you believe you are being discriminated against based on pregnancy or because you are a mother, it is important that you stand up for your rights. Every time a woman speaks up, she makes it easier for other working mothers. And with pregnancy discrimination on the rise there has never been a more crucial time for women to stand up for their rights and fight back against discriminatory practices.
Sherman Law, PLLC, located in Portsmouth, NH, represents companies and employees in all types of employment-related matters, including claims involving sexual harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, and discrimination.