It Happens Every Day: Pregnant Woman Fired for Being Pregnant
A young woman in Houston, TX, claims that she was just fired for being pregnant. The woman, who worked as a case manager for the personal injury law firm Wayne Wright, reportedly told her employers that she was pregnant and would be requiring maternity leave. She claims that in response, the firm told her that they could not accommodate that request and that she would have to “choose her last day on the job.” Her job has since been terminated.
I could pretend that this is a crazy isolated incident, but I think we all know better than that. The United States takes pretty bad care of its expecting mothers–we are one of just a few countries that does not require paid maternity leave. In case you were curious, the only other nations that do not offer those benefits are Oman and Papua New Guinea.
When it comes to laws preventing employers from firing their employees because they’re pregnant, the United States does have the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. That law is supposed to prevent companies from discriminating against women for being pregnant, past pregnancies, or the possibility of future pregnancies. However, the law is a bit sparse, and has some serious loopholes. According to the law, companies must give women 12 weeks of unpaid leave for medical reasons such as pregnancy and childbirth. However, that law only officially applies to companies with at least 50 employees, and the woman applying for the leave must have worked for the company for at least 12 months. Other parts of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act only apply if the company has more than 15 employees. Experts’ estimates about how many employees are actually eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave range from 20 percent to 59 percent.
This is obviously a very simplistic overview of the legal protections offered by the government to pregnant women–there are other state and local laws in place that provide some benefits. However, those laws are inconsistent and often inadequate. In general, the United States does a pretty miserable job of helping pregnant women keep their jobs.
The woman in Houston who is now suing is notable because if she’s telling the truth, the discrimination waged against her was of a very overt nature. Oftentimes, discrimination against pregnant women, or women who have the potential to become pregnant, is considerably more subtle. Sometimes women not hired or promoted because of they may become pregnant and require some sort of leave. Here’s an example: a husband and wife, both teachers, interviewed for very similar jobs. They both have similar work experience, although the wife also had a master’s degree. She was asked many questions about her personal life, including whether or not she’s planning on getting pregnant. The husband was not asked whether or not he plans to become a father–or really anything about his personal life in general. In a Reddit post about her experience, the aforementioned woman stated:
I was asked ‘Do you have children yet?’ I was taken aback so I just ended up saying ‘Nope, just cats.’ I’m child-free but I knew better than to state that in an interview for a teaching position. I was still nervous and in ‘interview mode’ so it didn’t really hit me until after how shitty it was to be asked that question.
Not only is that question blatantly illegal–Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prevents such inquiries–I think you’d be hard-pressed to find many men asked about their familial intentions in a job interview.
In some cases, the discrimination against young female employees is even less subtle. A few weeks ago, a web developer from Toronto named Lyndsay Kirkham was sitting next to a bunch of IBM executives out to a business lunch. According to her, they went on a bit of a rant about how they don’t hire young women because “they are just going to get themselves pregnant again and again and again.”
It’s also important to note that discrimination against pregnant women hits low-income families particularly hard. Women who work in jobs that require some degree of manual labor–such as retail, or food service, are often not provided the accommodations they need while pregnant. This may even force pregnant women to take unpaid leave, or quit their jobs.
Whether backhanded or overt, the discrimination in this country against pregnant and potentially pregnant women is real. This case in Houston is just one of countless examples, because the laws we have in place simply aren’t enough. Until the United States improves the ways in which it treats pregnant women, what happened at that Houston law firm will happen again and again.
Anneliese Mahoney (@AMahoney8672) is Lead Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at amahoney@LawStreetMedia.com.
Featured image courtesy of [Ed Yourdon via Flickr]