Getting fired for being pregnant is still illegal, but not as rare as you’d like to think…
Recently, we wrote about a pregnant employee who was terminated when she submitted a request for an accommodation designed to protect her unborn child during a difficult pregnancy. Even in an at-will employment state like California, where employment can generally be terminated for any reason – or no reason – firings for discriminatory reasons are illegal. The good news (if having to litigate your right to remain employed can be called good news for any woman) is that employees who are terminated for discriminatory reasons have the law on their side. In the case of pregnancy-related discrimination, a lawsuit can be filed to recover lost wages, future lost earnings and emotional distress.
The following are real-life situations that have arisen when women have informed their employers they are pregnant. Women who have been pregnant while working can tell you that the atmosphere at work can shift from positive to negative faster than a fetal heartbeat.
1. The “suddenly we don’t trust you” scenario
One of the themes in these incidents is that a formerly cherished employee is suddenly the target of accusations of impropriety in the workplace. One woman — let’s call her “Sarah” – was an employee of a major national drug store chain. Sarah was afraid to tell her employer she was pregnant, having witnessed a co-worker’s harassment and subsequent termination just six months earlier. That co-worker was also pregnant and was terminated allegedly for “stealing a smoothie.” She had, in actuality, sampled a bad product to prevent selling it to customers. The real crime? She was pregnant.
Upon the employer’s learning of her pregnancy, Sarah was suddenly asked by her supervisor to admit that she used drugs. She said she did not use drugs of any kind, and pointed out that she was pregnant. She refused to sign paperwork admitting that she had taken illegal substances. For refusing, she was suspended and placed “under investigation.” When she attempted to return to work after her employer failed to inform her of the “results” of the investigation, she was told she had been fired for creating a “hostile work environment.” Sarah sued her employer for wrongful termination and discrimination.
2. “I’m sorry, but your job is being eliminated”
A female reporter in Ohio found herself suffering complications from pregnancy, which necessitated her being placed on bed rest. After an emergency c-section, she needed to recuperate for eight weeks. She contacted her boss to let him know that she would work from home as soon as possible, and would be returning at full capacity after the eight weeks had passed. She was told the company could not accommodate her, and was asked to clear her desk. They went so far as to challenge her unemployment benefits, a tactic she successfully appealed. Because her previous employer owns all newspaper outlets in her area, she has not been able to obtain another job in journalism since she was let go in 2012.
3. The “expectant mothers are suddenly incompetent” scenario
Ashley M. was working as a marketing coordinator at a construction company. When she was asked, during her interview for the job, if she had any children, she should perhaps have seen the giant red flag. She took the job and became pregnant within a few months. Her pay was cut by half immediately, and she began to experience pregnancy-related humiliation and discrimination on the part of her employers. She was constantly harassed while at work, and often found herself accused of “having baby brain.” When she applied for maternity leave under the FMLA, her employers tried to convince her to continue to work part-time or face losing her job. She was fired in March 2015.
4. “Oh by the way, we’re giving that promotion to someone else.”
Also in March of this year, a New Jersey debt collections company was sued by the EEOC for pregnancy-related discrimination. The company had rescinded a female employee’s promotion after learning that she was pregnant. They told the pregnant employee that she would need to focus on her health and the new baby during tax season, which was unacceptable because that was the busiest time of the year.
These stories are but a few of the hundreds involving professional women across this country who find themselves pregnant, and suddenly at odds with their employers, despite the laws in place to prevent this sort of paternalistic stereotyping and discrimination.
The battle for women’s equality in the workplace is far from over. If you, or a loved one, have experienced any of the following, or something similar, while pregnant on the job, call an experienced employment attorney. Lazear Mack 510-735-6316
- You were passed over for a job in spite of your qualifications, and your pregnancy, or plans for future family somehow came up in the interview
- You are subjected you to various types of harassment relating to your pregnancy (e.g. “Baby brain” or suggestions that pregnant women somehow cannot perform their work as well as persons who are not pregnant; stereotyping of your performance based on pregnancy)
- You were denied a promotion, raise in pay or other benefits promised, upon your employer learning of your pregnancy
- You were terminated or forced to quit (particularly if you have noticed that other women also mysteriously left employment with your company after becoming pregnant)
- You were denied access to training or job assignments immediately after applying for maternity leave or letting your boss know you were expecting
- You were demoted, laid off or fired upon becoming pregnant (sometimes this can be done legally, so take note of the circumstances to provide your attorney)
- You were prevented from coming back to work (following childbirth) even though you were ready to start back on the designated date after your leave was up
- You are told your job is no longer available, following a short leave of absence for pregnancy-related issues
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Employment Law Attorneys
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