With several friends of mine getting pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, I’m reminded of an often overlooked issue: pregnancy discrimination.
For years, women have struggled against numerous forms of discrimination in the workplace, including unequal pay, sexual harassment, unpaid leave, and maternal profiling. Despite it being 2011, pregnant women are being targeted for workplace discrimination more than ever.
More than thirty years after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, pregnant women continue to fight an uphill battle against discrimination in increasing numbers.
Two years ago, the National Partnership for Women and Families issued the findings of its report, “The Pregnancy Discrimination Act: Where We Stand 30 Years Later,” which confirmed what many of us have known for years – that having a family can pose real challenges for women in the workforce. Pregnancy can impede a woman’s chances to be hired or promoted, and in some cases, may increase the likelihood of an unfair dismissal.
Although firing an individual for being pregnant is illegal, doing so remains one of corporate America’s dirty little secrets. Many women choose to avoid any legal battle for fear of endangering future job prospects within their industry, not to mention the costs and time associated with pursuing legal remedies.
The report also revealed an alarming explosion of pregnancy discrimination charges in recent years. For example, in 2007 women filed 65 percent more complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) than they did in 1992.
Why the upsurge in registered complaints? Although no single cause can be identified for this increase, racial and ethnic minorities, as well as those employed in industries dominated by women, made up the majority of those filing complaints. More than half of EEOC claims made between fiscal year 1996 and fiscal year 2005 (53 percent) emanated from the service, retail, financial services, insurance and real estate industries, which employ roughly 70 percent of all women.
In that same time period, the number of charges filed by women of color jumped 76 percent, while claims overall rose 25 percent.
Furthermore, the report confirmed that “as a statistical matter, factors such as the number of women working, the number of working women having children, how long women work while pregnant, and when women return to work after pregnancy have grown at a slower pace than the growth of pregnancy discrimination complaints.”
To read the full report, please visit www.nationalpartnership.org.
If you believe you have been a victim of pregnancy discrimination, please contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at 1-800-669-4000.
Note: This post is an edited version of an article I wrote for WhatNOW, available here.