Pregnancy Discrimination is on the Rise

By Jennifer Garvey

Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace can include; refusal to hire a woman because she is pregnant, terminating a woman because she is pregnant, demoting a woman because she is pregnant, and sometimes even questioning a woman’s plan about the possibility of becoming pregnant in the future. These acts are all illegal, but for some reason employers have been ignoring this fact more and more. A recent article from MSNBC talks about how pregnancy discrimination charges are on the rise.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pregnancy discrimination charges jumped 19% this last year to 4,901 complaints. Are all these employers really thinking that what they are doing is just? Or do they think they can get away with it? I mean after all women are supposedly the “weaker sex,” so what woman would be strong (and smart) enough to report something like that? Why don’t employers ask a man about his future plans to have children? I mean these women aren’t getting pregnant on their own are they?

As a young woman working with an organization that gets calls from women everyday regarding this matter, it makes me wonder what are these employers thinking? I’ve come to the conclusion (among many) that most employers feel that even if they were to terminate a woman due to her pregnancy, most women would be too scared to report anything. Hmm… well I guess not that scared since discrimination charges are becoming more frequent. So, watch out employers and think twice before you question one of your female employee’s future plans to bear.

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The MSNBC story by Eve Tahmincioglu follows:

I think I should set the record straight about something quite a few readers ask about: Pregnancy discrimination is indeed illegal.

You hear that, employers out there?

You cannot refuse to hire a woman because she is pregnant. You cannot fire her because she is pregnant. You cannot demote her or dock her pay because she is pregnant. Even if you ask a woman about her child-rearing plans, and don’t do the same of your male job applicants or employees, that’s a no-no.

Seems pretty basic. Alas, not to everyone. Despite the fact that we supposedly live in a society that is becoming more understanding, and corporate America tells us more supportive, of work-life balance, the number of pregnancy discrimination complaints across the country is actually on the rise, big time.

“The increase in pregnancy discrimination charge filings and lawsuits is cause for concern,” says David Grinberg, a spokesman for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Such charges filed with the EEOC, state and local agencies jumped nearly 19 percent to a record 4,901 last year, from 3,977 in 1997. And, he adds, “pregnancy discrimination lawsuits by EEOC have increased about threefold from six or fewer per year in the early to late 1990s, to 16 or more per year since 2001.”

Oops. Looks like many employers forgot to read the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. Women affected by pregnancy or related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees with similar abilities or limitations. (See sidebar for an overview of your rights.)

Aside from blatant discrimination, one of the most contentious issues among pregnant women and their employers is how much time an employee is allowed to take after the baby is born, says Elaina Smiley, a Pittsburgh employment lawyer who herself recently returned to work from a maternity leave.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, workers who are employed by firms with 50 employees or more and have worked for a company for at least 12 months have to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees for medical reasons including pregnancy and the birth of a child