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June 11, 2008

Pregnancy Discrimination

We write all the time about reproductive rights issues, but usually in terms of things like abortion and contraceptives that are about the right not to reproduce (or about the right to choose when and how many times to reproduce, if you are or want to be a parent). But we've seen several stories about pregnancy discrimination recently that we wanted to address, because we think it's important to remember that despite what many anti-choicers would have us all believe, choosing to carry a pregnancy to term does not automatically transport you to a magical land free from stress and problems where you are automatically treated with the respect that your life-giving self deserves. The anti-choice crowd will often accuse pro-choice people of being anti-motherhood and anti-child, which of course isn't true, so it's important to work just as hard and speak up just as much for the rights of women who choose pregnancy and motherhood.

In May, more than 50 additional women joined a class action discrimination lawsuit that was filed last fall by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Bloomberg L.P., the financial services and media company founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

When the lawsuit was filed, there were only three named plaintiffs — Jill Patricot, Janet Loures and Tanys Lancaster. A fourth, Monica Prestia, joined the suit about two months later.

According to a commission claim, Ms. Lancaster was earning nearly $300,000 a year in a senior position in the transaction products department when she told her bosses she was pregnant. Afterward, she was demoted and her pay was cut, the claim said.

Ms. Patricot, the claim said, was unable to maintain her previous work schedule after returning from maternity leave because of child-care needs. As a result, the commission said, she was demoted to an entry-level position.

As for Ms. Loures, the commission said that her duties as a senior manager in the global data division were reduced after she took maternity leave for a first and then a second child.

In general, the lawsuit charges that the women were replaced by more junior male employees, excluded from management meetings or subjected to comments that included, “You are not committed” and “You don’t want to be here.”

Ms. Prestia claimed in the lawsuit that after she had her first child in 2005, she received the worst performance review of her career, her compensation fell, and a supervisor who could not have children of her own was openly hostile to her. At one point, the suit contends, a different supervisor asked her, “What is this, your third baby?”

The EEOC has also filed suit against oil refiner ConocoPhillips for discriminating against several pregnant employees of Phillips 66 stores in New Mexico.

May 27 (Bloomberg) -- ConocoPhillips, the second-largest U.S. oil refiner, violated federal law by discriminating against two pregnant women employed at Phillips 66 convenience stores in New Mexico, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said.

The company subjected Asherah Lucas to discriminatory employment terms, placed her on involuntary unpaid leave and fired her and another worker, Dominique McNary, because of their sex and pregnancy, the EEOC said in a lawsuit filed May 16 in federal court in Albuquerque. The alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, the agency said.

``Pregnancy discrimination remains a persistent problem in the 21st century workplace,'' EEOC attorney Mary Jo O'Neill said today in a statement. ``Women should never be forced to choose between motherhood and their livelihood.''

The article about the Conoco case (which comes from the also-accused Bloomberg, funnily enough) also mentions the fact that pregnancy discrimination claims are on the rise.

Pregnancy-discrimination filings increased 14 percent to a record 5,587 last year and have surged 40 percent in the past decade, according to the EEOC. The agency is responsible for enforcing the nation's anti-discrimination laws in the workplace.

A couple of cases have also come up recently with pregnant police officers facing problems with being transferred to light work or office work for the duration of their pregnancies.

In Ocean Township, New Jersey, Officer Sonia Henriques's request to go on light duty because of her pregnancy was initially denied by Police Chief Antonio Amodio.
Office Henriques was told to either continue working as she always has or take an unpaid leave of absence, reports the Associated Press. The decision caused outrage on the behalf of the decorated officer and calls for more reasonable maternity policies in police departments.
After several days, the department changed their minds and the request was granted.

In Detroit, Officer Tisha Prater filed a complaint against the Detroit Police Department for their discriminatory policies, which was upheld by the EEOC.
Pregnant police officers in Detroit are forced to go on unpaid leave when they reveal their pregnancies and are denied light-duty work.

The Detroit News reports that Officer Prater was forced to hide her pregnancy by wearing a girdle and by saying her morning sickness was the result of late nights drinking. After capturing a suspect following a foot chase at three months pregnant, Officer Prater said she could no longer hide her pregnancy for fear of harming her baby.

Officer Prater decided to file a complaint with the EEOC instead of submitting to unpaid leave. The EEOC found that Officer Prater was "forced to take a leave of absence because of her sex," reports the Daily Women's Health Policy Report.

Officer Terry Hardy, Officer Prater's scout car partner, told the Detroit News, "I was just so glad when she took it up in her mind to go ahead and fight. It's just not fair that women want to have families and they have to be stressed out about where their paycheck is coming from."
In the wake of the Prater case, legislation has been drafted to amend Michigan's Civil Rights Act to address the problem.
New legislation may help pregnant police officers in Michigan maintain paid work, rather than being forced to take unpaid leave. Democratic representative, Coleman A. Young II is currently pursuing an amendment to the state's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act in an attempt to block the practice of forcing women to leave the department without pay until after the birth.

A policy that considers pregnancy to be an off-the-job injury bars women from light-duty office jobs offered to people that have suffered injures while working.

"A pregnant officer should not and cannot by law be considered injured. By cracking down on this unfair action, we are making civil rights a priority and proving that gender should have no basis in determining pay," said Young, according to The Detroit News.

The New York Times recently reported on insurance companies denying coverage to women who have had C-sections, or forcing them to pay higher premiums.
She was turned down because she had given birth by Caesarean section. Having the operation once increases the odds that it will be performed again, and if she became pregnant and needed another Caesarean, Golden Rule did not want to pay for it. A letter from the company explained that if she had been sterilized after the Caesarean, or if she were over 40 and had given birth two or more years before applying, she might have qualified...In a letter to Ms. Robertson, Golden Rule, which sells individual policies in 30 states, said it would insure a woman who had had a Caesarean only if it could exclude paying for another one for three years. But in Colorado, such exclusions are considered discriminatory and are forbidden, so Golden Rule simply rejects women who have had the surgery, unless they have been sterilized or meet the company’s age requirements.

...Although it is not known how many women are in Ms. Robertson’s situation, the number seems likely to increase, because the pool of people seeking individual health insurance, now about 18 million, has been growing steadily — and so has the Caesarean rate, which is at an all-time high of 31.1 percent. In 2006, more than 1.2 million Caesareans were performed in the United States, and researchers estimate that each year, half a million women giving birth have had previous Caesareans.

This gets into some complicated issues about the possible reasons for the increase in the number of c-sections, where the blame lies, and how the insurance companies should respond.

“Obstetricians are rendering large numbers of women uninsurable by overusing this surgery,” said Pamela Udy, president of the International Caesarean Awareness Network, a group whose mission is to prevent unnecessary Caesareans.

Although many women who have had a Caesarean can safely have a normal birth later, something that Ms. Udy’s group advocates, in recent years many doctors and hospitals have refused to allow such births, because they carry a small risk of a potentially fatal complication, uterine rupture. Now, Ms. Udy says, insurers are adding insult to injury. Not only are women feeling pressure to have Caesareans that they do not want and may not need, but they may also be denied coverage for the surgery.

“You have women just caught in the middle of this huge triangle of hospitals, insurance companies and doctors pointing the finger at each other,” Ms. Udy said.

The article goes on to talk about the fact that different insurance companies in different states can and do pursue a whole mess of different strategies when it comes to women who have had c-sections, from covering women with no problem to denying coverage completely. And since the policies of companies like Golden Rule seem to be aimed only at women who might become pregnant again (even if many of the individual women involved don't actually want or plan to have more kids), this could be interpreted as discriminating against women not even for being pregnant but because they're physically able to get pregnant. So what the hell, why not just deny coverage to all women? After all, some of us might need hypothetical c-sections one day.

For more info:

The EEOC's website offers Facts About Pregnancy Discrimination, which details the provisions of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. And if you think you've been the victim of discrimination, they also have info on how to file a charge.

This article from Business and Legal Reports references some past cases of pregnancy discrimination and their outcomes, as well as some differences in the law from state to state.

FindLaw.com has a Pregnancy Discrimination FAQ.

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Bill said...

Thanks, it's good to know what things we need to keep fighting for. Sometimes people don't realize how bad things are until it happens to them.

joycer said...

Thank you for posting this.

Spotty legal covereage for pregnant women is something that I think the pro-choice movement on the whole tends to overlook, and something the anti-choice movement seems to ignore completely ['You have that baby. No, I don't care whether or not you can afford to raise it'].

Part of reducing the necessity for abortion procedures in this country is making it not suck so much for [single and married/committed] women to support themselves and any previous children while pregnant.