The New York Times has published a prominent report on pregnancy discrimination in America’s workforce. Reporters interviewed dozens of women who claim to have suffered pregnancy discrimination, along with their lawyers and a number of government officials. They also reviewed thousands of pages of public records and court documents. They identified a clear pattern of systemic discrimination at many of our nation’s biggest and most prestigious companies.
When workers become pregnant, the Times found, they are often treated as if they have no further ambition for promotions. They are denied prestigious assignments, disinvited from client meetings and passed over for bonuses. They may be denied basic and necessary accommodations, such as breaks, relief from heavy lifting and a decent place to pump breast milk. When they stand up for their rights, all too often they are fired.
Pregnancy discrimination is illegal under the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under the PDA, employers with 15 or more employees may not discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions. This includes discrimination prompted by the prejudices of coworkers, clients and customers. It includes discrimination in the provision of leave, insurance and other benefits.
According to the EEOC, pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions must be treated the same as other temporarily disabling conditions. Pregnant employees must be allowed to work as long as they are able to perform their jobs, and those jobs must be held open on the same terms they would be for other employees experiencing disabilities. Any discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions is considered unlawful gender discrimination. It is also illegal to retaliate against an employee for complaining about pregnancy discrimination or for filing or participating in Title VII litigation.
Nevertheless, a 2014 analysis by a University of Massachusetts Amherst sociologist found that each child a woman has reduces her hourly wage by 4 percent. In contrast, a man’s hourly wage increases by 6 percent with each child. This was true even after controlling for factors such as education, experience, hours worked and marital status.
Meanwhile, the annual number of pregnancy discrimination claims the EEOC receives has steadily risen for at least two decades to a near-all-time high. Legal actions have been brought against AT&T, 21st Century Fox, KPMG, Merck, Morrison & Foerster, Novartis, Walmart and Whole Foods, all of whose websites claim to celebrate and empower women.
We recommend reading the Times’ real-world examples of how women from both white- and blue-collar positions experienced pregnancy discrimination — in many cases, quite openly. It gives a good idea of how prevalent and powerful the bias against pregnant women can be.