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Monday, August 3rd, 2015
Pregnant women fighting discrimination in the workplace got a major boost recently, when AutoZone agreed to drop its challenge of a roughly $186 million award that a jury granted a former employee and mom of two in a pregnancy bias case.
The unprecedented award was a result of mistreatment by the auto parts giant of Rosario Juarez, a manager at one of the company’s San Diego-area branches, when she was pregnant. According to the complaint, Juarez’s higher-ups said she wasn’t able to manage a store and grow a baby at the same time, so they persuaded her to go back to her former job at the store, in parts sales, until she gave birth. Right after her son was born, Juarez was demoted. Then she was fired for allegedly misplacing $400 in cash. (A store loss prevention offer later testified in court that she never suspected the mom of any misdeeds; rather, she believed AutoZone was unfairly targeted Juarez.)
A six-person jury sided with Juarez, awarding her mega millions in punitive and compensatory damages. And until last week, AutoZone brass had vowed to fight back.
Juarez’s case is a clear-cut victory in the fight against pregnancy discrimination, as it shows that juries care about protecting moms-to-be in the workplace, says Tom Spiggle, founder of the Spiggle Law Firm based in Arlington, Virginia, and author of You’re Pregnant? You’re Fired!
“Regardless of what Ms. Juarez ultimately puts in her pockets—and it will no doubt be over a million dollars—the fact remains that a jury was so angry at what AutoZone did to a pregnant employee that it thought the price tag should be well over $100 million dollars, one of the largest verdicts in history for a single plaintiff,” Spiggle says. “If nothing else, this verdict shows with an exclamation point, or three, where public sentiment is on pregnancy discrimination. Employers have no doubt taken heed.”
Still, that doesn’t mean pregnancy discrimination is on its way out. For every Juarez, there are countless other women who are struggling in silence on the job. Spiggle says there are a couple of reasons why some employers discriminate against moms-to-be. “First is classic discrimination,” he says. “It is sadly still a common belief that pregnant workers are not as effective as non-pregnant employees. Second is that many women are vulnerable at this point in their careers. Many don’t know their rights and, with a baby on the way, they are time-pressured to do other things than read up on the law.”
Thankfully, the courts are giving working moms-to-be a bit of support. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court decided, in Young vs. UPS, that employers must treat pregnant employees the same as non-pregnant employees, unless there’s a valid, non-discriminatory reason. Though many saw this as a compromise, it’s also a bit of leverage women can use to protect themselves in the workplace.
Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.
Image of working woman courtesy of Shutterstock
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Thursday, March 26th, 2015
If you’ve been following the case of Peggy Young, you’ve been waiting for the huge Supreme Court decision that came down yesterday.
In short, here’s what happened: The court heard Young’s pregnancy discrimination case involving her fight with the United Parcel Service over the way it treated her when she was employed and expecting her daughter. At that time, she provided a doctor’s note that requested modifications be made to her role so that she wouldn’t be required to lift anything heavier than 20 pounds. But she wasn’t reassigned; she was told to take unpaid leave instead. In other words, she effectively lost her job.
Thus, she felt she was not treated in the same way that her employer was required to—and did—treat other temporarily disabled workers. And so the question was whether the action was a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act that forbids that distinction.
Related: What Is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act?
Now, we know what the Supreme Court has to say on the matter: In a a 6-3 decision, the court gave the win to Young and expecting workers in the workforce. They handed it back to the Fourth Circuit.
In a statement about the ruling, National Women’s Law Center co-president Marcia D. Greenberger said, “The Court has put employers on notice: pregnancy is not a reason to discriminate. The Court said that if you accommodate most non-pregnant workers who need it but not most pregnant workers who need it, you may be found guilty of violating the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.”
So what does this mean for working moms-to-be all around the country? We asked Tom Spiggle, author of the book You’re Pregnant? You’re Fired: Protecting Mothers, Fathers, and Other Caregivers in the Workplace, and founder of the Spiggle Law Firm based Arlington, Virginia that focuses on workplace law. His take: It’s an enormous win.
“This means quite a lot for pregnant workers,” Spiggle said. “Even though the Supreme Court sent the case back to the Fourth Circuit, the law is now established.”
According to the law, he said, “An employer with 15 or more employees cannot categorically deny a pregnant worker reasonable changes in the workplace to allow her to continue working. The Fourth Circuit’s job now is to decide an evidentiary issue that applies only to this case. Regardless of what happens to the Young case now, the broader law established by SCOTUS applies nationwide to all pregnant employees and workplaces of 15 or more workers.”
Related: Pregnancy Discrimination at Work: Is it on the Rise?
And that’s a reason to celebrate!
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Alesandra Dubin is a new twin mom. She’s also a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of home and travel blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and Twitter.
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Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
Today, the Supreme Court will hear the pregnancy discrimination case of Peggy Young, who is fighting the United Parcel Service over its treatment of her when she was an employee who became pregnant with her daughter (now age 7). At that time, she provided a doctor’s note requesting that her role be modified to avoid lifting anything heavier than 20 pounds. Instead of being reassigned, Young lost her job.
We asked Tom Spiggle, author of the book You’re Pregnant? You’re Fired: Protecting Mothers, Fathers, and Other Caregivers in the Workplace, and an Arlington, Virginia-based lawyer specializing in workplace law, to help interpret what this case means for working families everywhere—and why pregnancy discrimination is still a problem we’re talking about.
What could it mean for pregnant working women if the court decides against Young?
Tom Spiggle: It would mean that the only federal law on pregnancy discrimination will not protect a woman if she needs even a small change at work to help her keep working. For instance, need to keep a bottle of water with you because you have a pregnancy-related bladder infection? You could legally get fired if the company doesn’t like it. A pregnant woman in Young’s situation might be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but only if she qualified as disabled under the Act.
Why is there (still) bias against pregnant women in the workforce?
TS: Although women have made inroads into senior management, high-level executive positions tend to be populated by men, most of whom can afford to have a spouse stay home or to hire full-time childcare. Most of these folks don’t wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, “I’m going to discriminate against a pregnant woman today.” But I do think most are far enough removed from the realities of working women that they don’t think about how corporate policies can affect pregnant employees. And there still is a prevalent view among many, in the leadership position and otherwise, that pregnancy is a choice so the company should not be “punished” for a woman’s “choice” to have a family. Finally, for years companies got away with pregnancy discrimination because women often chose to leave the workforce rather than stay in an unwelcome work environment. When the glass ceiling was low, and families could make it on one income, women just left a job rather than fight a pregnancy discrimination case. With women making it higher up the workplace food chain and families not able to get by on one income, the stakes are higher so more women are, either by choice or necessity, fighting back.
What’s the big deal with making some accommodations to keep a valuable employee?
TS: Frankly, it isn’t a big deal. Note that UPS reversed its own policy and now voluntarily accommodates pregnant workers to allow them to keep working. There have been significant improvements in opportunities for pregnant women in white-collar positions because companies are (sometimes slowly) waking up to the reality that it makes little sense to devote thousands of dollars to train a female employee, only to lose that investment because your company makes it impossible to work and have children. Of course, that’s not to say women in these positions don’t experience discrimination. It still happens. But some of the worst stories occur in low-wage occupations—food service, retail—where replacing an employee is not costly. Some companies would prefer to fire a woman than accommodate her, even if the actual cost to do so is low, because they can easily replace her.
Can you give any other examples of companies that have made positive policy changes for pregnant employees, either on their own or in anticipation of this case?
TS: Well, UPS for one has reversed the very policy that got it in hot water in this case and now at least provides light-duty assignments for pregnant women with lifting restrictions. And there are many companies that recognize the value in allowing a pregnant worker to continue to work as long as she is able. Hewlett-Packard, for instance, is known to be such a company, doing things like providing paid maternity and paternity leave. Patagonia is a standout example that provides flexible work schedules and even has an on-site childcare facility. The fact that Patagonia has experienced explosive growth puts the lie to the notion that it somehow harms a company when it recognizes the value of pregnant employees.
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Thursday, August 8th, 2013
It can be nerve-wracking trying to figure out how and when you should spill the beans about the bun in your oven at work. You could be extra sensitive if you’ve just recently started the job, you’re up for a promotion, or your company is rumored to have layoffs coming up. It’s a very personal decision of when to share your big news, so do it on your own time. But a good rule of thumb for most pregnant women seems to be at the beginning of their second trimester. That way, they know things are going well with the pregnancy, many haven’t fully started showing yet, and it still gives them enough time to work out the minute details about their maternity leave.
But could giving your boss and colleagues too much notice backfire on you? According to a new survey of 432 moms conducted by Slater & Gordon in London, the answer is yes! A staggering 75 percent of women suggested that moms-to-be should actually wait till the last possible minute to tell their bosses that they’re expecting. Why? Because the attitudes of their bosses and colleagues changed once they found out they were pregnant (not in a good way), and a whopping 48 percent felt their chances of rising in the ranks had come to a halt since becoming pregnant.
Suddenly, you’re seen differently in the eyes of your co-workers. You’re no longer the capable, confident go-getter, but fragile. What’s up with that? I’ve had friends who’ve said they’ve been moved from high-profile accounts—without their request—because they required nighttime entertaining of clients, or longer hours, and their bosses felt that those weren’t the right fit for a pregnant woman. Whether it’s intended to be helpful or not—who knows?!—often times bosses take it upon themselves to do what they think is best for you and your family. And by that I mean they think you should be at home more—whether that’s your intended career path or not.
Sadly, for the women in the survey, the news didn’t get much better once they returned from maternity leave. Twenty-nine percent felt that they had been passed over for promotions because they had taken maternity leave, and were now perceived as having family obligations that would prevent them from doing as well of a job as they had done before having kids.
Discrimination is never a good thing, but I really hate that this sort of blatant stereotyping would never happen to men. Fathers aren’t “daddy tracked” in the office, so why are mothers “mommy-tracked”?
TELL US: When did you tell your boss you were pregnant? Did you feel anyone at work treated you differently because you were pregnant?
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