While both state and federal laws protect women against workplace discrimination based on pregnancy or birth, the reality is that companies of all sizes systematically ignore these laws to protect their bottom line. Even some of the bigger companies in the U.S. are guilty of this type of discrimination, and it is part of a larger problem that women face in the workplace.
- Rachel Mountis was working for the pharmaceutical giant Merck. She was a saleswoman who had won awards for her work, yet she was laid off from her job just three weeks before the birth of her child.
- Erin Murphy was in a senior position at the financial company Glencore. She was harassed on the trading floor. After she gave birth, the company provided only a supply closet as a place for her to pump milk for her child.
- Otisha Woolbright's job at Walmart involved lifting heavy trays. Her manager said that pregnancy is no excuse because a movie star was able to do a flip while pregnant. Ms. Woolbright had to continue the lifting and was eventually injured. After giving birth, she reported being fired for asking about time off.
A New York Times review of public and court records, coupled with interviews, resulted in a finding that pregnant women get passed over for raises and promotions, and in some cases they are fired if they complain. There was little difference between women in high- and low-paying jobs, other than the form
A larger pattern of sexual harassment and gender discrimination
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of employed women in the United States reported facing sexual harassment in the workplace. They reported lower pay for the same jobs, less support from supervisors than their male colleagues received, being passed over for promotions, and being treated as if they were not fit for their jobs.
This harassment was reported at similar rates across age, education, race and ethnicity. Women with higher education levels did report more specific instances of not receiving support from their superiors, being passed over for promotions and being slighted at work. This may be a result of these women being in higher positions in what is still considered "a man's world." Given this larger context, it is no surprise that pregnant women in the workplace routinely find their rights in question.
What to do if you've been discriminated against
The Walmart case mentioned above is now a class action lawsuit, with women across the country alleging that the company discriminated or retaliated against them due to pregnancy. Cases like this are extremely important because they not only tell other women that they are not alone, but they also hold companies accountable in court. Don't hesitate to contact our attorneys if you feel your employer has treated you unfairly while you were pregnant or after having a baby.