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A Startling Truth: Pregnancy Discrimination on the Rise

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.

 

Shaheen Reintroduces Legislation To Protect Pregnant Workers From Workplace Discrimination

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which is closely modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), would address legal ambiguities and help ensure that pregnant women are treated fairly on the job

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Dean Heller (R-NV) reintroduced bipartisan legislation that would protect pregnant workers from workplace discrimination. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would address legal ambiguities and help ensure that pregnant women are treated fairly on the job. The legislation, which is closely modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), would require employers to make reasonable accommodations—such as a minor job modification—that would allow pregnant workers to continue working and prevent them from being forced out on leave or out of their jobs. The bill also prohibits employers from denying employment opportunities to women based on their need for reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Mike Coffman (R-CO).

“No expectant mother should have to choose between giving up her job or jeopardizing the health of her pregnancy,” said Senator Shaheen. “Congress must work together to safeguard the important role of women in our workforce and prevent employer discrimination. This bipartisan legislation will ensure that pregnant workers are afforded reasonable on-the-job accommodations and protected from unfair retaliation.”

“Women make up almost half the workforce, but all too often they’re forced to make an impossible choice: risk their own health and pregnancy to keep a job, or lose their income at the moment they can least afford it,” said Emily Martin, NWLC General Counsel and Vice President for Workplace Justice. “Pregnant workers are ready, willing and able to work but they are often pushed out by employers who refuse to make even minor temporary changes to their jobs to accommodate pregnant workers’ medical needs. We applaud today’s bipartisan action and urge Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act – because no woman should have to choose between her job and her pregnancy.”

Sixty-two percent of pregnant women and new moms are in the labor force, yet under current law, pregnant workers can be placed on unpaid leave or forced out of their jobs because of a pregnancy.

Shaheen and Casey first introduced this legislation in the 112th Congress. The legislation is supported by: A Better Balance, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), American Association of University Women (AAUW), American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, California Women’s Law Center, Equal Rights Advocates, Hadassah, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center, Legal Momentum, Main Street Alliance, March of Dimes, National Organization for Women, National Partnership for Women & Families, National Women’s Law Center, Physicians for Reproductive Health, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce.

MomsRising Praises Bipartisan Support for Ending Pregnancy Discrimination

momsrising_picture_large-01WASHINGTON, DC — Earlier today, MomsRising members delivered “Thank You Cards” and personal stories from pregnant workers packaged in nautical tote bags to members of Congress who are co-sponsoring and backing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act; as well as messages to those NOT already supporting the bill urging them to “get on board!” to anchoring families’ economic security by co-sponsoring the Act. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require employers to make the same sort of accommodations for pregnant workers with medical needs that are already made for employees with disabilities, would help keep families and our economy afloat. This Act has garnered bipartisan support in both the U.S. House and Senate.  However, at the same time, some in Congress recently introduced the First Amendment Defense Act, which was drafted in response to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, and would allow employers to fire unmarried women just for being pregnant. The First Amendment Defense Act would override the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, but the message from moms and families across the nation is clear: We can’t leave pregnant workers stranded without a paycheck at the moment they need it most.

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director and CEO of MomsRising, issued the following statement, calling on members of Congress to back the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and permanently end discrimination against pregnant workers and expecting mothers:

“More than 35 years after the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, women now make up almost half of the labor force and yet are still experiencing tremendous discrimination on the job when they become pregnant. This is an issue that impacts most women and working families because more than 80% of women do have children by the time they are forty-four years old. Further moms are now the primary breadwinner in 40% of all families. Yet right now far too many pregnant workers have to navigate rough waters when it comes to getting reasonable, medically-needed accommodations–like extra water breaks–at work. This isn’t right and it’s not fair.

Pregnancy discrimination has dire consequences for a family’s economic security because it leaves pregnant workers without a paycheck at the moment they need it most. Women of color and immigrant women are especially impacted by employers refusing to accommodate pregnant workers with medical needs.

Plain and simple – nobody should ever have to choose between her job and the health of her pregnancy, but too many women still face this impossible choice today.   That’s why MomsRising members in all 50 states are urging their members of Congress to help keep families and our economy afloat by backing the bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and end the devastating discrimination against expecting mothers.”


MomsRising.org is an online and on-the-ground grassroots organization of more than a million people who are working to achieve economic security for all families in the United States. MomsRising is working for paid family leave, flexible work options, affordable childcare, and for an end to the wage and hiring discrimination which penalizes so many others.  MomsRising also advocates for better childhood nutrition, health care for all, toxic-free environments, and breastfeeding rights so that all children can have a healthy start. Established in 2006, MomsRising and its members are organizing and speaking out to improve public policy and to change the national dialogue on issues that are critically important to America’s families. In 2013, Forbes.com named MomsRising’s web site as one of the Top 100 Websites For Women for the fourth year in a row and Working Mother magazine included MomsRising on its “Best of the Net” list.  MomsRising also maintains a Spanish language website:  MamásConPoder.


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