It has been 40 years since the Pregnancy Discrimination Act amendment to Title VII established federal protection against discrimination in the workplace for pregnant women. Yet, nearly 31,000 charges of pregnancy discrimination were filed between 2010 and 2015.
Choosing to bring a child into the world is an occasion for celebration -- not punishment. Subjecting women to adversity in the workplace for a pregnancy is illegal-- not to mention prejudice -- and should never be tolerated.
Last month, a legal assistant sued the personal injury law firm she worked for in Denver, Colorado after being fired upon the announcement of her pregnancy. The woman also claimed to have been asked discriminating questions by employees of the firm, including:
- Has your pregnancy caused medical issues?
- Will you "keep the baby?"
- Are you acting as a surrogate?
The firm reached a settlement with the woman for $30,000 and has agreed to change their hiring practices. The case goes to show that discrimination even happens in businesses that claim to know and serve the law.
The New York Times reported that sifting through thousands of court and public records showed a trend in large, renowned U.S. companies engaging in the discriminatory practices toward pregnant women.
One example includes a Walmart employee who instructed a pregnant woman to continue carrying heavy boxes until she was hurt, despite her complaint.
Another example saw a senior employee at financial powerhouse, Glencore, instructed to pump breast milk in a cluttered supply closet.
Other familiar companies who have faced related charges include the United Parcel Service (UPS), Autozone and Chipotle. As cases continue to pop up, it's clear that the fight for equality is still ahead of us.
What you can do
If you are an employee, you can help support the issue by speaking up if you or a co-worker has been discriminated against. Examples of discriminatory actions against a pregnant woman may be:
- Exclusion from raises and/or promotions
- Exclusion from work events, meetings and important communications
- Rejecting reasonable accommodations
- Subjection to heavy lifting and other manual labor
- Termination without other cause
- General mistreatment, including making disparaging or offensive remarks or questions
- Any form of retaliation after a complaint of pregnancy discrimination
For employers, regularly training employees on what sorts of actions and remarks constitute discrimination can help keep your workplace free of this prejudice. It may also be helpful to establish an approved procedure concerning issues such as hiring, training, promoting, maternal leave and termination that prevent the issue from being handled inappropriately.
Seek legal counsel to fight pregnancy discrimination
If you feel that you have been discriminated against in the workplace or are an employer looking to ensure the protection of pregnant employees, seek legal counsel for help.
An attorney can help identify when a person is being discriminated or retaliated against for pregnancy and the legal steps that should be taken in response.