When I was 24, a male CEO asked me, "Do you plan on having babies or focusing on your career?" during an interview. My reply? "Um, I'm not sure." Then, when I was 30 and postpartum, HR told me I had to cut my maternity leave short because I spent some time on bedrest. At 38 and eight months pregnant, my female boss told me that women "in my situation" were expected to resign, but I could re-apply when things changed. Whenever I tell these stories, other moms share their own horrifying pregnancy discrimination experiences and, sadly, I'm reminded that I'm not alone in these experiences.
These stories make me wonder how, in 2018, we still live in a world where women have to choose between having a family and having a job. It seems unfathomable to me that pregnant people still face discrimination, but they do. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), laws like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) provide protection from discrimination for pregnant women and their families. But these laws are far from perfect, only apply to certain employers, and, in my experience, are confusing, especially when you have a person in an authority position telling you something different and you're scared you'll be fired for speaking up.
The PDA requires that employers (with 15 or more employees) offer a pregnant person the same type of accommodations they would give a non-pregnant worker who is similarly unable to work. But, what does that even mean? And what do you do if you think your employer is breaking the law? The answer is, of course, to make a report to Human Resources or the EEOC, but I can tell you that is easier said than done, and I'm saying this as relatively privileged person with the means and support to do so.
According to the EEOC, pregnancy discrimination claims of all types, and from people in all kinds of positions and industries, are on the rise. And with more and more women entering the workforce, it's past time for employers to get with the damn program, because you shouldn't have to choose between starting a family and working to support them. Read on for real-life stories of pregnancy discrimination from moms who totally deserved better.
"I was offered a contract to return to teach the following year. It was signed, I had my review, and everything was fine. Two weeks later I announced my first pregnancy the last week of school. I got a phone call from the headmaster saying the were no longer offering me the position, as I'd been 'sad and off' lately. I was suffering from terrible morning sickness, and my husband was deploying to Afghanistan. I guess I was 'off.' I'm still pretty pissed. This was seven years ago."
"I was 19 and about five months pregnant with my first. I applied for a job and had a phone interview and was told I was hired. A few days later, I went to sign some papers, get direct-deposit set up, and get my uniform. The owner took one look at my stomach and said, 'I wish you would have said so on the phone and not wasted either of our time,' and un-hired me right then and there. This dude brought his two golden retrievers into the damn restaurant kitchen with him, but wouldn't hire a pregnant woman, despite the fact that it's illegal to discriminate like that, but, being 19, I didn't stick up for myself or file a complaint."
"When I disclosed my pregnancy to my employer, I was terminated less than two weeks later. It was a huge company with lawyers on staff, and I'd been with them for nearly three years, with no verbal or written warnings. They eliminated my role and called it downsizing. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, saying I wouldn't take legal action in exchange for a sum of money. I took it. I wouldn't have been able to sue them anyway because my husband worked for the same company, and it just wouldn't have been a smart move."
"I got hired on at a company, and they knew I was due in a month. I had a planned C-section date so I told them when I would be leaving. Due to preeclampsia, I was induced earlier and had to miss a week of work ahead of what I planned, because I had my baby. I had to come back a week ahead of time, because you were only allowed 90 days. When I returned, they refused to let me pump. When I went to Human Resources, they finally let me as long as I punched out. I pumped for 30 minutes, but was clocked out for 40, due to getting set up and cleaned up, and got talked to because I was abusing my time. I brought it up to Human Resources again, and they basically told me to suck it up and take less time. I ended up getting a better paying job two months later and left, but it was a stressful two months of constantly explaining that pumping can’t be done in 10 minutes."
"I was working in a salon as a hairdresser. They performed these Keratin treatments there. It was under construction, and there was no ventilation. Keratin treatments are extremely dangerous. I walked out one day, because no amount of money I could sue them for would bring back my twins health. It just wasn’t worth it. They had me doing all sorts of awful sh*t [when I was] pregnant, like standing outside in the rain to clean color trays, not letting me eat lunch, not giving me breaks, or letting me eat. After this particular experience, I don’t ever want to work in another salon again. Awful industry I hope my daughters stay far away from it."
"I was a night shift stocker at a very large chain big box store. The shift manager would regularly assign me tasks that I was incapable of doing or were not safe for a pregnant person, like stocking furniture or climbing ladders in the back. My fellow employees would switch with me and take the brunt of her anger. One night she called me into the office and wrote me up for taking bathroom breaks because she felt I should have no more than two in an eight hour shift. She then tried to force me to sign a shift change request, because she said someone 'in my condition' should not be working at night. I had to call the district manager to get her to stop, because everyone above her would brush me off. I was 21 at the time."
"We don’t have paid parental leave at my company, and our policy is that annual performance reviews are postponed by the length of time you use FMLA. So, for example, my annual review with my yearly cost of living/performance raise was postponed by 12 weeks from July to October. This may not seem like much, but if a woman has children close in age over a few years, she ends up much further behind her male counterparts who started around the same time, purely because she is the one giving birth."
"I worked at a popular burger chain as a hostess. When I had morning sickness and couldn't come into work, due to the smell of cooking meat, I was told I was calling in too much and was let go."
"I was fired for being pregnant in 2005. I was a stellar employee for them, until I needed my employer to fill out paperwork so I could get Medicaid. Immediately after I was denied bathroom breaks, harassed when I did go, and made into a caricature, my boss drew a crude drawing of a pregnant woman on the sales board and crossed it out.
After about a week, my boss told me that I was free to go home. I asked if he was firing me. He repeated that I could go home. I asked again. I told him I wasn't quitting so I needed to know if I was fired.
I reported it to the state department of civil rights. They took the case. All I wanted was my job back. The owner of company agreed to it, but when I went in, I was re-fired for not meeting a quota, which didn't exist until that meeting. Long story short, I was about seven months pregnant with my son when I walked into meditation as a very angry pregnant lady and walked out feeling vindicated. All without an attorney. They did pay me a sum. The owner told me after the meditation that I was 'the biggest b*tch that ever walked the earth.' I shrugged and said, "Wrong b*tch."
"My boss’s boss called me two weeks postpartum and told me I was required to come to the hospital where I worked for my annual review, and it couldn’t wait until I returned from my maternity leave. I ended up having to drag my breastfed newborn to work with me, without getting paid, to sit there for an hour being told that I wasn’t committed enough to my job — a feeling that my boss seemed to begin promoting when I announced my pregnancy — while my son rooted and cried constantly because he was hungry. On top of all of this, I was already dealing with major postpartum depression, and ended up crying in my car for an hour afterwards before I could pull myself together enough to drive home."
"It said in my contract I would increase my hours from part time to full time on a set date. Just after returning to work from maternity leave, I went to sort it out, and the CEO said, 'You are a new mum, are you really up to working full time? Should you be working full time?'"
"My supervisor during my first pregnancy in the U.S. Air Force made it a game to try to to make me cry every day. I should have reported his behavior, but I was scared, young, and new to the Air Force."
"I got fired from my job of three years after my misogynistic boss found out I was pregnant. His words about a week or two, before I got fired, were, 'I don't think you can work here anymore. I want someone younger and hotter behind my bar.' I thought he was making a terrible joke at the time, until the manager warned me to look for another job because the owner wanted me gone."
"I was forced into a different portfolio of work, when I came back from leave that mandated international travel and working in a language I am definitely not fluent in. I couldn't get a straight answer about it, because my boss kept dodging my calls. I told him point blank the travel was an issue and was assured it could be worked around, but when the time came, I had to go. I left less than a year later. I should have made more of a case about it but I was too exhausted and overwhelmed."
"In medical school, on a required elective, I was having difficulty with the pace of my attending's clinic, because I was 28-weeks pregnant and had Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) — a very painful pelvic issue that occurs in pregnancy — and contractions. I advised my attending that I was having trouble and asked if I could be permitted to sit down while consulting, and perhaps take some breaks between patients, particularly since they had me working 12-hour days and I was in pain to the point of tears by mid-afternoon. She refused to work with me for the remainder of the elective.
The second attending I worked with lectured me that, as doctors, we can't take sick days, and that I should be committed enough to medicine not to take time off if I'm going to 'go around being pregnant.' I was given a bad evaluation for the elective. In Medicine, a bad evaluation for an elective basically ruins your chances of going into that specialty. It's a very good thing I did not want to go into that specialty or this would have destroyed any possibility of doing so."
"I got pregnant unexpectedly at 21. I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum from the get-go. My fiancé and I had bought a house in another metro area, and had both taken transfers within the same Fortune 100 company. A nationwide hiring freeze went through, and my new position went away. I kept applying for more transfers. The interviews would go beautifully, they would seem really excited to have me, but I'd never get another callback. I was able to keep my old position, but I was driving 110 miles each way everyday. I puked on the side of the interstate every day. I was written up multiple times for not having the door of the office open at 8:00 a.m. sharp. I was in the office every time, but throwing up in the bathroom. One Friday afternoon when I was five months pregnant, my supervisor called me into her office and asked me to look into applying for short-term disability since my performance 'was lacking.' I had been Agent of the Month for the four months straight before I got pregnant.
On Monday, my supervisor had me work until lunchtime. She met me outside the bathroom, had me come into her office, and handed me a resignation letter. She said that if I signed it, I would be paid two weeks and it would get me into the next month, where my medical coverage would last until the end of that month. If I refused to sign, she would fire me for performance issues on the spot and my medical coverage would end in nine days. I signed the resignation letter, went home, and cried. I then called the regional HR office and asked how they felt about my supervisor telling a pregnant woman to look into medical leave on Friday and then essentially firing me on Monday. I never got a call back from HR, but I got called back for an interview at the office next to my new home in the metro area and was offered a raise for a lower position than I had been doing. I have never once felt guilty about calling HR or taking that job."
If you think you've experienced pregnancy discrimination, you aren't alone. You can file a complaint against your employer by contacting the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or calling 1-800-669-4000.