Jack Tuckner is the featured expert in this incisive Lawyers.com analysis of pregnancy discrimination at the workplace.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has found a sharp increase in pregnancy discrimination complaints over the past 10 years. Women complained of violations that ranged from getting fired during pregnancy or immediately after, to being assigned lower-paying positions because of their condition.
• In Pennsylvania, a chiropractor notified her employer when she found out she was pregnant. She was hospitalized for nearly two weeks with severe morning sickness that nearly led to dehydration. The company fired the mother-to-be and terminated her health care within days of her notice, and hired a replacement. She’s suing under the EEOC for an undisclosed amount, and the company counter-sued her for $50,000, claiming that she left her job and neglected to fulfill her contract obligations.
• In another case, a judge ordered a Wisconsin medical staffing company to pay $148,000 to a woman, Roxy Leger, who was fired when she took maternity leave following the birth of her son. The settlement resulted from a default judgment, when the company failed to retain an attorney after a court order. According to the EEOC, the company owner “referred to Leger’s pregnancy as a joke; insisted that maternity leave should last no more than a couple of days; suggested that Leger’s pre-natal appointments were a ruse for additional time off or for money; and gave Leger an offensive diagram of a machine which would allow Leger to return from her maternity leave sooner … HCS terminated Leger’s employment and health insurance while she was still in the hospital recovering from a Cesarean section … Leger learned of her termination days later by certified mail,” reports the human resources company Workforce.
• A part-time UPS employee needed to avoid lifting more than 20 pounds during her pregnancy. “Given that UPS had a policy of giving light duty to various other employees who were physically unable to do their usual job,” she assumed the company would accommodate her temporary condition, writes Emily Martin, Vice President of the Women’s Law Center. Instead, they forced her to take unpaid maternity leave, and she lost her medical coverage “months prior to the birth of her child.” She wound up losing her pregnancy discrimination case.
“I’m a businessman. I understand what it’s like to have a pain in the butt employee,” says Jack Tuckner, an attorney specializing in women’s rights and father of two daughters. “Pick a master, you can’t pick two. You have a corporate master. It’s so competitive, with ‘unemployed need not apply’ and jobs leaving the country. The fact is, you’re pregnant, and you’re going to be compromised.”
Tuckner says sex, pregnancy and disability constitute the “Holy Trinity” of discrimination. And he says where sexual harassment and gender bias have leveled off in recent years, pregnancy discrimination is on the rise. Especially because employers deliberately deceive women about their rights to maternity leave.
“You have an employee who’s out of the game for three months, and they aren’t necessarily looking at you as a human being who’s looking for compassion – you’re at home watching HBO!”
He says lying has become more brazen to cheat women out of their lawful rights, which are paltry compared to other developed countries where women get paid maternity leave, such as Germany and the Netherlands. Even a corporation that sells products to women, with mostly female employees, lies to their employees, using the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to get them to resign, so they cannot demand maternity leave or accommodation. “Those calls don’t stop coming in,” the attorney says. It’s especially easy to dupe lower-income women who have less education – women who are more likely to be single mothers, who need the employment more desperately.
If they fire the pregnant woman, it would constitute a violation of the FMLA, so they’ll coax a resignation instead. “Pregnancy is a disability, legally. If you have medical challenges, it’s deserving of a reasonable accommodation,” Tuckner says. A woman on maternity leave will be “out of the game,” and companies see her “as damaged goods.”
The attorney says a few questions will tell a woman if she might have a pregnancy discrimination case. Tuckner says, “You said, ‘Hello employer, I’m pregnant, I need to know what my status is.’ Now, the terms and conditions of my employment with this company, have they changed? Have they been degraded? Have they been altered as a result of my status? After you notified them, or they noticed your pregnancy. If something about my pregnancy is causing a change in my work status that I feel uncomfortable about, it’s the first sign of (discrimination).”
Women can file a complaint with the EEOC, and can seek a consultation with a good women’s rights lawyer. You can find more information and steps you can take to protect yourself here.