Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for the ‘pregnancy discrimination’ Category

Why Workers Like Victoria Need The PRO Act Now

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019

Those bundles of joy cost bundles of money, so Victoria Whipple, a quality control worker at Kumho Tire in Macon, Ga., had been working overtime to get ready for her new arrival.

She also got involved in union organizing at the plant, and management decided to teach her a lesson. It didn’t matter that Victoria had seven kids ranging in age from 10 to 1. Or that she was eight months pregnant. Those things just made her a more appealing target.

On Sept. 6, the day Kumho workers wrapped up an election in which they voted to join the United Steelworkers (USW), managers pulled Victoria off the plant floor and suspended her indefinitely without pay solely because she was supporting the union. In a heartbeat, her income was gone.

“It kind of stressed me out because of the bills,” she explained.

What happened to Victoria happens all the time. Employers face no real financial penalties for breaking federal labor law by retaliating against workers during a union organizing campaign. So they feel free to suspend, fire or threaten anyone they want. Workers are fired in one of every three organizing efforts nationwide, and the recent election at Kumho was held only because the company harassed workers before the initial vote two years ago.

Legislation now before Congress—the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act—would curtail this rampant abuse.

The PRO Act would fine employers up to $50,000 for retaliating against workers during organizing campaigns. It would require the National Labor Relations Board to go to court to seek reinstatement of workers who are fired or face serious financial harm because of retaliation, and it would give workers the right to file lawsuits and seek damages on their own.

The House Committee on Education and Labor has taken up the PRO Act, and it’s important that members of Congress understand exactly what’s at stake: families like Victoria’s that might be only a couple of missed paychecks away from financial ruin.

They can’t afford to be pawns in a company’s sordid union-busting campaign.

Victoria began working at Kumho a year and a half ago, after being laid off from her dispatching job at a distribution center. Her husband, Tavaris Taylor, recently started an over-the-road trucking job. They didn’t have much of a financial cushion for emergencies, and the suspension put their backs against the wall.

Instead of focusing on her family in the final weeks of her pregnancy, Victoria had to worry about money. It wasn’t healthy for her or her unborn child. And it wasn’t right.

When Victoria’s eldest child asked why she wasn’t going to work anymore, she just said she needed some time off. It would be wrong to burden a 10-year-old with the truth.

Victoria began borrowing gas money from her mom. She cut back her spending. She prioritized the bills and paid only those—rent, electricity and so on—that she considered absolutely essential.

She kept going to her doctor appointments, hoping the company’s insurance still covered her or that Medicaid would kick in if it didn’t. Victoria qualifies for Medicaid even though she works full time. The need for better pay is just one reason Kumho workers voted to join the USW.

But Victoria’s main concern was giving workers a bigger voice in the workplace. She went to a union meeting and thought: “Maybe representation would help.”

That’s how she became a union supporter—and got crossways with a company that couldn’t care less about its workers, their families or federal labor law.

Victoria didn’t know how long her suspension would last or if management’s next step would be to fire her. That would be Kumho’s kind of baby gift.

Then, out of the blue last week, a manager called Victoria and told her to return to work. On Friday, her first day back after two weeks without pay, managers had the brass to ask her if she understood why she had been suspended.

Yeah, she understood all right.

Companies will do almost anything these days—even suspend a pregnant woman and escort her from the premises—to keep out unions and hold down workers. That’s especially true of Kumho. Its egregious union-busting activities derailed workers’ attempt to join the USW two years ago.

Back then, Kumho threatened union supporters’ jobs, interrogated employees about their union allegiance, threatened to shut down the plant if the union was voted in and made workers think they were being spied on. The conduct was so extraordinarily bad that an NLRB administrative law judge ordered Kumho to assemble the workers and read a statement outlining the many ways in which it had violated their rights and federal labor law.

The NLRB also ordered this month’s election, in which workers voted 141 to 137 to join the USW. Thirteen challenged ballots will be addressed at an upcoming hearing.

The mistreatment of Victoria shows that Kumho hasn’t changed its ways over the past two years. Unfortunately, employers have no incentive right now to follow the law.

The PRO Act would help to level the playing field. Besides fining companies for retaliation and giving workers the right to sue, the legislation would prohibit employers from holding mandatory anti-union presentations like the “town hall” meetings Kumho forced Victoria and her co-workers to attend. Employers conduct the meetings to bully employees into voting against a union.

The legislation also would provide new protections once workers voted for representation. For example, if a company dragged its feet during bargaining for a first contract, a regular ploy to lower worker morale, mediation and arbitration could be used to speed the process along. And the PRO Act would prohibit employers from hiring permanent replacements for striking workers.

Members of Congress need to understand something. Workers aren’t looking to pick fights with their employers. They just want to do their jobs well, work in safe environments and earn enough money to care for their families. And some companies work productively with unions, including the USW, to improve working conditions and product quality.

But employers like Kumho too often exploit their employees and resist any effort that workers make to improve their lot. When that happens, workers like Victoria will stand their ground. Now more than ever, they need the protections of the PRO Act backing them up.

This blog was originally published by AFL-CIO on October 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Tom Conway is international president of the United Steelworkers (USW).

Far-right effort to smear Elizabeth Warren flops. Turns out pregnancy discrimination is a thing

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019

Elizabeth Warren and the entire history of women’s employment in the 1970s are swatting away a claim by a far-right website disputing Warren’s story of losing her first teaching job because she was visibly pregnant at the end of her first year. The Free Beacon found documents claiming that Warren was offered a second-year teaching contract but resigned. However, there are a lot more documents showing that it was absolutely standard for women to lose teaching jobs because they were pregnant, and Twitter was quick to bring those receipts.

The key rebuttal to the claim that Warren wasn’t really forced out in 1971? A 1972 news story from New Jersey, the state where Warren was teaching, reporting that “Pregnant teachers can no longer be automatically forced out of New Jersey’s classrooms.” To repeat, “automatically forced out.” But many other headlines prove just how standard that was, as historian Joshua Zeitz shows.

Warren herself had a typically straightforward, non-defensive response:

She told CBS News that, as the documents Free Beacon found indicate, she had initially been offered a second-year teaching contract. But that’s not the whole story, she said: “I was pregnant, but nobody knew it. And then a couple of months later when I was six months pregnant and it was pretty obvious, the principal called me in, wished me luck, and said he was going to hire someone else for the job.”

Other people who taught in the same New Jersey district at the time didn’t remember Warren’s specific case, but did confirm the policy. “The rule was at five months you had to leave when you were pregnant. Now, if you didn’t tell anybody you were pregnant, and they didn’t know, you could fudge it and try to stay on a little bit longer,” retired teacher Trudy Randall said. “But they kind of wanted you out if you were pregnant.”

Not only did women routinely lose their jobs for being pregnant in the 1970s, when it was legal to fire them for that reason, but women continue to lose their jobs for being pregnant, even though there are now technically some legal protections for pregnant women. The Free Beacon thinking it had a giant gotcha here shows how out of touch these people are with the reality American women are still living with now, let alone what they lived with in the 1970s.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on October 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

A Pregnant Target

Friday, September 27th, 2019

Those bundles of joy cost bundles of money, so Victoria Whipple, a quality control worker at Kumho Tire in Macon, Georgia, had been working overtime to get ready for her new arrival.

She also got involved in union organizing at the plant, and management decided to teach her a lesson. It didn’t matter that Victoria had seven kids ranging in age from 10 to 1. Or that she was eight months pregnant. Those things just made her a more appealing target.

On Sept. 6, the day Kumho Tire workers wrapped up an election in which they voted to join the United Steelworkers (USW), managers pulled Victoria off the plant floor and suspended her indefinitely without pay, solely because she was supporting the union. In a heartbeat, her income was gone.

“It kind of stressed me out because of the bills,” she explained.

What happened to Victoria happens all the time. Employers face no real financial penalties for breaking federal labor law by retaliating against workers during a union organizing campaign. So they feel free to suspend, fire or threaten anyone they want. Workers are fired in one of every three organizing efforts nationwide, and the recent election at Kumho Tire was held only because the company harassed workers before the initial vote two years ago.

Legislation now before Congress—the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act—would curtail this rampant abuse.

The PRO Act would fine employers up to $50,000 for retaliating against workers during organizing campaigns. It would require the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to go to court to seek reinstatement of workers who are fired or face serious financial harm because of retaliation, and it would give workers the right to file lawsuits and seek damages on their own.

It’s important that members of Congress understand exactly what’s at stake: Families like Victoria’s that might be only a couple of missed paychecks away from financial ruin.

They can’t afford to be pawns in a company’s sordid union-busting campaign.

Victoria began working at Kumho Tire a year and a half ago, after being laid off from her dispatching job at a distribution center. Her husband, Tavaris Taylor, recently started an over-the-road trucking job. They didn’t have much of a financial cushion for emergencies, and the suspension put their backs against the wall.

Instead of focusing on her family in the final weeks of her pregnancy, Victoria had to worry about money. It wasn’t healthy for her or her unborn child. And it wasn’t right.

When Victoria’s eldest child asked why she wasn’t going to work anymore, she just said she needed some time off. It would be wrong to burden a 10-year-old with the truth.

Victoria began borrowing gas money from her mom. She cut back her spending. She prioritized the bills and paid only those—rent, electricity and so on—that she considered absolutely essential.

She kept going to her doctor appointments, hoping the company’s insurance still covered her or that Medicaid would kick in if it didn’t. Victoria qualifies for Medicaid even though she works full time. The need for better pay is just one reason Kumho Tire workers voted to join the USW.

But Victoria’s main concern was giving workers a bigger voice in the workplace. She went to a union meeting and thought: “Maybe representation would help.”

That’s how she became a union supporter—and got crossways with a company that couldn’t care less about its workers, their families or federal labor law.

Victoria didn’t know how long her suspension would last or if management’s next step would be to fire her. That would be Kumho Tire’s kind of baby gift.

Then, out of the blue last week, a manager called Victoria and told her to return to work.  On Friday, her first day back after two weeks without pay, managers had the brass to ask her if she understood why she had been suspended.

Yeah, she understood all right.

Companies will do almost anything these days—even suspend a pregnant woman and escort her from the premises—to keep out unions and hold down workers. That’s especially true of Kumho Tire. Its egregious union-busting activities derailed workers’ attempt to join the USW two years ago.

Back then, Kumho Tire threatened union supporters’ jobs, interrogated employees about their union allegiance, threatened to shut down the plant if the union was voted in and made workers think they were being spied on. The conduct was so extraordinarily bad that an NLRB administrative law judge ordered Kumho Tire to assemble the workers and read a statement outlining the many ways in which it had violated their rights and federal labor law.

The NLRB also ordered this month’s election, in which workers voted 141 to 137 to join the USW. Thirteen challenged ballots will be addressed at an upcoming hearing.

The mistreatment of Victoria shows that Kumho Tire hasn’t changed its ways over the past two years. Unfortunately, employers have no incentive right now to follow the law.

The PRO Act would help to level the playing field. Besides fining companies for retaliation and giving workers the right to sue, the legislation would prohibit employers from holding mandatory anti-union presentations like the “town hall” meetings Kumho Tire forced Victoria and her co-workers to attend. Employers conduct the meetings to bully employees into voting against a union.

The legislation also would provide new protections once workers voted for representation. For example, if a company dragged its feet during bargaining for a first contract, a regular ploy to lower worker morale, mediation and arbitration could be used to speed the process along. And the PRO Act would prohibit employers from hiring permanent replacements for striking workers.

Members of Congress need to understand something. Workers aren’t looking to pick fights with their employers. They just want to do their jobs well, work in safe environments and earn enough money to care for their families. And some companies work productively with unions, including the USW, to improve working conditions and product quality.

But employers like Kumho Tire too often exploit their employees and resist any effort that workers make to improve their lot. When that happens, workers like Victoria will stand their ground. Now more than ever, they need the protections of the PRO Act backing them up.

This blog was originally published by AFL-CIO on September 26, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Tom Conway is international president of the United Steelworkers (USW).

Protection Against Pregnancy Discrimination in California

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

Pregnancy is an exciting and emotional time in a person’s life. It can feel like there is so much to do before the baby arrives; from a healthy delivery to making sure you have enough savings in your bank account. You do not need another thing to worry about, especially your job security.

Fortunately, there are both state and federal laws which protect employees against wrongful discrimination based on their pregnancy status or disability as a result of pregnancy. If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, it is important to know your rights and how you and your family are protected under these laws.

What is pregnancy discrimination?

According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, pregnancy discrimination is unfavorable treatment towards a woman due to her pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition.

This type of discrimination is unlawful at any stage of hiring, employment, or termination. It is illegal to deny someone a job, demote or refuse to promote, decrease pay rate, or terminate employment due to a person’s pregnancy status or desire to become pregnant, intention of becoming pregnant, or possibility of pregnancy.

Pregnancy discrimination also includes a variety of actions. As a pregnant employee, you are not just protected from being fired or demoted due to pregnancy, but it is also unlawful for an employer to deny you reasonable accommodations due to pregnancy status, including a time and place to express milk, or deny you time off following the birth of your child.

What are discriminatory employment actions?

 Any discriminatory action against you in the workplace is unlawful. Some of the most common discriminatory employment actions due to an employee’s pregnancy status include:

  • Refusing to hire;
  • Demoting;
  • Laying off;
  • Denying benefits, such as paid time off and health insurance;
  • Assigning lesser or inferior jobs;
  • Terminations/Firing; or
  • Any other term or condition of employment.

What are reasonable accommodations?

Your employer is required to provide you with reasonable accommodations if, with those accommodations, you are still able to adequately perform your job duties. Reasonable accommodations are determined by considering whether this request would cause undue hardship to the employer. If not, it may be a reasonable request.

Some reasonable accommodations in regard to pregnancy may include:

  • Time off to attend doctors’ appointments;
  • Adjusting work schedules to accommodate for severe morning sickness;
  • Allowing the employee to sit during her shift; and
  • Weight restrictions related to lifting heavy objects.

What laws protect me from pregnancy discrimination?

 There are both state and federal laws which protect employees from discrimination based on pregnancy.

 The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or any other pregnancy-related medical conditions.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal statute which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. This includes pregnancy and limitations as a result of pregnancy.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees up to 12 weeks of leave per year due to the birth of a child, the placement of a child via adoption or foster care, the care of an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or the serious health condition of the employee. While this is unpaid, the employee may not lose their job due to her leave of absence under this federal statute. Employees also enjoy continuation of their health insurance and benefits as if they had never taken a leave from work.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against an employee or potential employee based upon the individual’s status as a protected class. In California, protected classes of people include:

  • Race, color
  • Ancestry, national origin
  • Religion, creed
  • Age (over 40)
  • Disability, mental and physical
  • Sex, gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical conditions)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity, gender expression
  • Medical condition
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Military and veteran status

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) is similar to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), however there are a few significant differences. The CFRA also allows employees up to 12 weeks of leave during a 12-month period for the same reasons allowable in the FMLA, but the CFRA also provides leave to care for a registered domestic partner who is experiencing a serious medical condition rather than only a spouse, child, or parent.

The California New Parent Leave Act (NPLA) allows employees to take time off to bond with a new child or a child newly placed for adoption or foster care. This Act requires the employer to provide the employee with a guarantee of employment security and reinstatement prior to beginning parental leave.

The California Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDL) specifically protects employees who are experiencing a disability resulting from pregnancy. Typically, the employee’s medical team will recommend how long the leave should be, according to your health condition, medical history, and other personal details, however this law does allow for up to four month of leave per pregnancy.

The California Paid Family Leave (PFL) allows employees time off work to bond with a new child following the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of the child. This also includes protections for employees to take time off work to care for a seriously ill family member, such as a child, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, or registered domestic partner. It is important to note that this statute only protects monetary benefits but does not provide job security or protection. However, your job may be protected through other state or federal laws.

This article was originally published by V. James DeSimone Law on August 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The team of employment attorneys at V. James DeSimone Law have in-depth knowledge and years of experience in this field. To schedule a consultation, you may call us today at (310) 693-5561. If you are pregnant or thinking about being pregnant, protect yourself, your family, and your job by knowing and understanding your rights and protections under both state and federal laws. If you believe you have been a victim of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, it is crucial to contact an experienced employment attorney right away. Learn more at: https://www.vjamesdesimonelaw.com/employment-law/pregnancy-discrimination/

Lost pregnancies at a Verizon warehouse show the urgent need for a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

In a Tennessee warehouse supplying Verizon customers with their phones and tablets, pregnant women are routinely worked to the point of losing their pregnancies, lifting boxes up to 45 pounds through long shifts in heat that can reach more than 100 degrees. And there is no law that says their employer can’t do this to them. Sure, there’s the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, but even when it’s enforced, it has loopholes you can drive a 747 through. 

If companies “treat their nonpregnant employees terribly, they have every right to treat their pregnant employees terribly as well,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, who has pushed for stronger federal protections for expecting mothers.

That’s why Democrats keep introducing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, to strengthen protections for pregnant women. But Republicans won’t consider it, not that this stops them from proclaiming themselves to be protectors of family values.

Early miscarriages are very common and are typically associated with chromosomal abnormalities rather than anything a woman in early pregnancy might do. But that’s not what the New York Times is reporting on here. Several of the cases cited in this article involved later pregnancy loss, well into the second trimester when miscarriages are much less common, and even into stillbirth territory. One of the women interviewed for the story delivered a baby at 20 weeks that lived for 10 minutes. “My husband and I watched her die,” she said. This is much, much less common, and when it comes after a woman has worked for hours lifting heavy boxes, against her doctor’s advice and after her employer has refused to give her light duty, it should be a crime. That’s not all, either. After a worker in the same warehouse died on the job, “In Facebook posts at the time and in recent interviews, employees said supervisors told them to keep working as the woman lay dead.”

Verizon said “We have no tolerance—zero tolerance—for this sort of alleged behavior,” except, apparently, to the extent that it has been tolerating the behavior right up until a newspaper started reporting on it. The company says it is investigating the workers’ claims.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on October 23, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

Walmart sued for alleged discrimination against pregnant workers

Monday, September 24th, 2018

Federal regulators have filed a lawsuit against Walmart claiming the retailer forced pregnant workers to take unpaid leave and refused their requests for less physically demanding duties.

Companies are required by law to accommodate employee pregnancies the same way they would disabilities, according to an article on the lawsuit published by Reuters. The suit was filed Friday on behalf of Alyssa Gilliam and several other female employees.

In her complaint, Gilliam said she became pregnant in April 2015, at which point she requested “light duty or transfer to a less physically demanding job” to avoid any heavy lifting that might endanger her pregnancy. She said she was told “light duty” was only available “to employees on workers’ compensation.”

Gilliam claimed her requests for a chair, shorter work days, or additional breaks were also denied. She said that eventually, she was forced to transfer to a part-time job within the company, resulting in a pay cut and loss of benefits.

In November 2015, Gilliam said she submitted a doctor’s note to the company identifying a five pound lifting restriction. Walmart, in response, immediately placed her on unpaid FMLA (parental) leave, two full months before she was due to deliver.

The company allegedly denied requests for accommodations for other pregnancy-related medical restrictions made by other pregnant employees at the distribution center, the suit argues.

By contrast, Walmart “accommodated non-pregnant employees who were similar in their ability or inability to work.”

“For example, Defendant accommodated [distribution center] employees who had restrictions due to work-related injuries by providing them with light duty,” the suit reads.

“Defendant deprived Gilliam and a class of female employees of equal employment opportunities and otherwise adversely affect their status as employees, because of their sex and pregnancy.”

Julianne Bowman, the EEOC’s district director in Chicago, said in a statement Friday that Walmart’s alleged refusal to accommodate the pregnant workers amounted to a violation of federal law.

“What our investigation indicated is that Walmart had a robust light duty program that allowed workers with lifting restrictions to be accommodated,” she said. “But Walmart deprived pregnant workers of the opportunity to participate in its light duty program. This amounted to pregnancy discrimination, which violates federal law.”

The EEOC said it is seeking “full relief, including back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and non-monetary measures to correct Walmart’s practices going forward.”

In a statement Friday, Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove responded to the suit, saying the company’s anti-discrimination policies were in full compliance with the law.

“Our accommodations policy has been updated a number of times over the last several years and our policies have always fully met or exceeded both state and federal law,” he said.

The nation’s largest private employer, Walmart is reportedly facing similar lawsuits in other states, including Illinois and New York. In May last year, Hargrove issued a statement insisting the company was “a great place for women to work.”

According to Reuters, the company requested to have the Illinois suit tossed out earlier this year, but was denied. The New York suit is currently pending.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 22, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Melanie Schmitz is an editor at ThinkProgress. She formerly worked at Bustle and Romper. Send her tips here: mschmitz@thinkprogress.org.

Investment Bank Allegedly Retaliated Against Employee After She Announced Her Pregnancy

Friday, August 19th, 2016

Bryce CovertAfter working at the investment bank Jefferies Group for nearly 12 years, Shabari Nayak thought she was on track to become a managing director — especially after bringing her firm $3.75 million in revenue.

But then last year she got pregnant. In a lawsuit filed against the bank on Wednesday, she says everything changed after she announced that she would be having a baby.

Nayak “delayed announcing her pregnancy as late as possible because she feared her career would be derailed,” according to her lawyer Scott Grubin.

Her fears were quickly realized, she alleges. She claims that when she told her direct supervisor of the pregnancy in August of last year, he told her that her “priorities would be changing” after she had her child and offered to help her find a job that was “less demanding,” potentially in the human resources department. She declined, preferring to stay on track for a managing director position.

She got a nearly identical response, she says, when she told the global head of her division. “These two utterly insensitive and demeaning conversations made clear that in the minds of management, Ms. Nayak’s pregnancy had irreversibly changed — if not ended — her investment banking career at the bank,” according to the complaint.

Months later, her supervisors told her she had “taken her foot off the gas pedal,” she claims. Then she says she was denied her year-end bonus, which reduced her overall compensation by nearly 60 percent. Yet she had gotten the bonus the year before when she brought in nearly $1 million less in revenue, while a similar male coworker in her group who hadn’t generated any deal revenue got a “substantial” bonus, according to the complaint.

“What should have been a most joyous time in her life, as Ms. Nayak welcomed her first child into her family, has been transformed into a demeaning and anxious ordeal by the bank’s discriminatory and retaliatory actions against her that has effectively derailed her personal and professional aspirations,” the complaint says.

Nayak no longer works at the bank, claiming that she was forced to resign while on maternity leave after experiencing the discrimination and watching her complaints go unaddressed.

“No reasonable person should be or could be expected to work in the environment created and fostered at Jefferies,” she said.

Now that she’s gone, she says her group at the investment bank has 32 men and no women in senior vice president or managing director positions.

A Jefferies spokesman said the lawsuit is “entirely without merit,” saying she “voluntarily resigned,” and that it will defend against it.

Pregnancy discrimination is already prohibited by federal law, but it’s still incredibly common. Complaints of pregnancy discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rose 65 percent between 1992 and 2007, outpacing the increase of women in the labor force, and there were more than 3,500 filed just last year.

A number of investment banks have been hit with discrimination lawsuits that depict a male-dominated and testosterone-fueled culture, and pregnancy discrimination comes up a lot. The finance industry was hit with 97 complaints of pregnancy discrimination in 2013. A lawsuit last year filed by Cynthia Terrana against investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald alleged that she was fired just 11 days after she told her manager she was pregnant.

Other lawsuits against Wall Street firms have alleged a “boys club” atmosphere of trips to strip clubs and sexual assaults against female employees that went ignored, the systemic undermining of women’s careers by denying them the most lucrative clients, and repeated sexual harassment that included female employees being pressured to sleep with executives.

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on August 19, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert  is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

Woman Claims She Was Fired By The Same Company Twice For Being Pregnant

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015

Bryce CovertAshley Lucas alleges she was fired not once, but twice, for being pregnant from her job with Service Boss Inc., a company that provides clients with household services such as cleaning, plumbing, and landscaping.

In a lawsuit filed last month in federal court, Lucas says she began working at the company in February 2014 but says she was fired in April, then reinstated, only to be fired again in June. She was pregnant at both times, but she says she had no work restrictions and was able to perform her job. She also says that she was a reliable employee. Given all of these factors, she believes she was fired because she was pregnant.

Lucas also describes management making derogatory comments about her pregnancy. According to her lawsuit, she was told that being pregnant made her unreliable and a liability, that she shouldn’t be working while pregnant, and that she should file for disability or welfare benefits.

Lucas’s lawsuit claims the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits sex discrimination in employment, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). She’s seeking to ensure that the practice of firing pregnancy employees ends at Service Boss, as well as back pay, punitive damages, and legal fees. The company could not be immediately reached for comment.

Lucas may be somewhat unique for being fired twice for the same pregnancy, but she’s not the first employee by far to be terminated for getting pregnant. A nonprofit had to pay $75,000 for having a “no pregnancy in the workplace” policy that led to the termination of a pregnant employee. A woman says she was fired after being told to “stay home and take care of [her] pregnancy.” Another says she was fired after being told her pregnancy would make her “move too slow.” The terminations can be swift: one woman claimed she was fired two weeks after telling her employer she was pregnant, while another says it only took hours.

Employers have been warned that these actions run afoul of existing law. Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its guidance for the first time since 1983 to remind businesses that Title VII and the PDA protect employees from being fired for being pregnant and also require them to be treated the same as any others “in their ability or inability to work” when it comes to accommodations and work adjustments so they can stay on the job. UPS also lost a high-profile case at the Supreme Court this year in a lawsuit brought by Peggy Young for failing to give her light duty during her pregnancy despite giving it to workers with disabilities or even suspended licenses.

And violating the law could come with steep financial consequences — in July, for example, AutoZone was made to pay a record-breaking $185 million in damages in a case where an employee said she was demoted and then fired for being pregnant.

Even so, pregnancy discrimination appears to be an increasing problem. Charges filed with the EEOC have increased from more than 3,900 in 1997 to more than 5,000 in 2013, and they have also outpaced the influx of women joining the labor force. The majority of charges are from women claiming they were fired for being pregnant. Meanwhile, an estimated quarter million women are denied their requests for pregnancy accommodations at work each year.

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on September 8th, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

Nonprofit Ordered To Pay $75,000 Over ‘No Pregnancy In The Workplace’ Policy

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Bryce CovertUnited Bible Fellowship Ministries, Inc., which provides housing and care to people with disabilities, will have to pay a former employee $75,000 for firing her after she became pregnant to settle a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The organization has had a “no pregnancy in the workplace” policy in place that meant it fired anyone who became pregnant and refused to hire anyone applying for a position while pregnant. It admitted that the former employee, Sharmira Johnson, performed her job as a resource technician providing care to residents well and didn’t have any medical restrictions that would keep her from carrying out her duties. Yet it fired her, arguing it was justifiable in order to ensure her safety, that of her unborn baby, and the safety of its clients.

That argument didn’t hold up in court. U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore found that United Bible “recklessly” failed to comply with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, race, religion, and other characteristics, by having the anti-pregnancy policy. The organization also has a contract with the Texas government, which requires it to comply with anti-discrimination laws. The court held that it failed to show that all pregnant women are unable to perform their duties safely. The judge awarded Johnson about $25,000 in back pay and overtime plus interest, as well as $50,000 in damages for emotional and mental suffering.

 

“This decision is another in a long line of federal court cases rejecting employer policies based on assumptions and stereotypes about a pregnant woman’s inability to work,” said Claudia Molina-Antanaitis, the EEOC attorney in charge of the case, in a press release. “Employers cannot impose paternalistic and unsubstantiated views on the alleged dangers of pregnancy to exclude all pregnant women from employment.” United Bible didn’t respond to a request for comment.

While federal law should already prevent workplace discrimination against pregnant women, it is still pretty widespread.

Some of it is a good deal more subtle than United Bible’s blatant “no pregnancy” policy. An estimated quarter million pregnant women are told each year that they can’t have small changes like switching to lighter duty or getting a stool to sit on so that they can keep working at their jobs safely. That means many are either forced onto unpaid leave before their babies are born or simply fired. Others stick it out and risk health complications, including miscarriage.

 

But many women have claimed that they were fired almost immediately after telling their employers that they had become pregnant. These companies don’t have as explicit policies as United Bible’s, but the effect is the same. A survey of decades of cases like these shows that employers frequently rely on stereotypes about pregnant women, like the idea that they simply won’t return to work after they have their babies, and vilify them to justify firing them.

Yet it has become more and more common for pregnant women to remain in the workplace before and after they give birth. The share of first-time mothers who work during their pregnancies has increased from less than half in 1960 to two-thirds today, while 80 percent work into the last month. On the other end, nearly 60 percent of women are back at work six months after they give birth and more than 70 percent of women with young children are in the workforce.

Given the discrimination pregnant employees still face at work, some states have gone above federal law to enact stricter requirements. Forty-five have protections against pregnancy discrimination, while 14 and Washington, D.C. have laws requiring employers to give pregnant employees reasonable accommodations so they can keep working. A federal law has been introduced multiple times to require all of the country’s employers to give pregnant workers those accommodations, but it hasn’t gained traction.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on May 29, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

For Women In This State, Getting Pregnant Will No Longer Mean Losing A Job

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Bryce Covert

On Tuesday, the New York State legislature passed a bill aimed at shielding pregnant women from workplace discrimination, which the governor has said he will sign. The new law will require employers to give pregnant workers accommodations so they can stay on the job unless the employer can show it would create an undue hardship. Those changes can be as small as a stool to sit on or more frequent bathroom breaks, and can also include light duty for women with lifting restrictions or other work transfers. Across the country, an estimated quarter million women are denied these requests every year, which means they often end up pushed onto unpaid leave, fired, or experience health complications including miscarriage. Many more women don’t even ask for accommodations because they fear retaliation.

Existing laws, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, should in theory protect pregnant women from discrimination. And in fact, the Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of Peggy Young, a woman suing UPS over its refusal to give her light duty when she became pregnant. That ruling helps bolsters women who need accommodations, but its impact is likely to be limited. “To get an accommodation under the Supreme Court’s standard in Young v. UPS, pregnant workers must navigate a long, convoluted, and costly process to prove discrimination,” Dina Bakst, co-president of advocacy group of A Better Balance, told ThinkProgress. “Most women simply don’t have the luxury of time or the resources to make that happen.”

Instead, laws like New York’s make things clear from the outset, before women are pushed onto leave or fired. Women “just need clear law when they ask for a minor adjustment at work so they can stay healthy for a few months,” Bakst explained. More and more women will need these adjustments, as the share of first-time mothers working while pregnant has shot up from less than half in 1960 to two-thirds today, and 80 percent keep working into their last month.

New York’s new law could come to the aid of women like Betzaida Cruz Cardona, who lives in Henrietta, New York and is suing Savers, her former employer, for firing her from her cashier job hours after she handed in a doctor’s note stipulating she couldn’t lift more than 25 pounds even though she was never required to do so. She says she has since become homeless. While she argues that the company violated existing federal law, things could have been easier if she lived in New York City, which already has a Pregnant Worker Fairness Act on the books that would have made it clear that her employer had to accommodate her needs.

Eleven other states have also implemented laws requiring reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. A federal bill that would cover all women has been introduced in Congress multiple times, but it has yet to advance.

This blog originally appeared on ThinkProgress.org on May 6, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

 

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