“Some women hit the maternal wall long before the glass ceiling,” a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law told the New York Times. “There are 20 years of lab studies that show the bias exists and that, once triggered, it’s very strong.”
The Times recently published a substantial article on the prevalence of pregnancy discrimination in the American workforce. At Walmart and on Wall Street, the Times writes, the maternal wall is real. Reporters reviewed thousands of pages of public records and court documents and interviewed dozens of victims, attorneys, and officials. A clear pattern of bias and active discrimination emerged.
The article focuses on the stories of several women who experienced pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, ranging from employers’ failure to provide pregnant women with reasonable accommodations to explicit statements that becoming pregnant would stall their careers.
One woman was accused of using her pregnancy as an excuse not to work hard. Others received very positive reviews and feedback before becoming pregnant, only to find themselves mysteriously sidelined or laid off during their pregnancies. Most women feared or actually suffered some sort of retaliation for being pregnant.
Individual stories of pregnancy discrimination are representative of trends
Discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or any related condition is illegal under the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Nevertheless, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 3,184 pregnancy discrimination complaints last year — a number that has been rising steadily since the EEOC began keeping electronic records and is now near an all-time high.
Tens of thousands of women have filed complaints against some of America’s largest employers, including 21st Century Fox, AT&T, KPMG, Merck, the law firm of Morrison & Foerster, Walmart, and Whole Foods.
According to a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, women lose 4 percent of their wages for every child they have. In contrast, men’s wages increase by 6 percent upon fatherhood. This is true even when controlling for factors like marital status, relative experience, education, and hours worked.
Researchers at the Census Bureau made similar findings. Before they have children, husbands earn only slightly more than their wives. However, by the time their first child turns 1, men earn over $25,000 more, on average, than women. Some of this discrepancy can be explained by women taking longer parental leave, working fewer hours, or dropping out of the workplace — but not all of it.
The Times article points out a widespread cultural bias that pregnant and childbearing women are not as dedicated or hardworking as others. This leads to a lack of accommodations for pregnancy or lactation, being passed over for promotions, being denied bonuses, and being unjustly terminated.
Have you experienced pregnancy discrimination? If so, speak with a dedicated and knowledgeable employment attorney to learn more about your rights and protections under the law.
Want more timely employment law updates? Sign up for our newsletter.