Workplace pregnancy discrimination cases on the rise

April 8, 2012

A housekeeper working for a Rockville apartment complex alleged she was fired after disclosing her pregnancy, even though her doctor had cleared her to work with no restrictions, according to a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Two women at a fast-growing government contractor said they were forced to resign because they were pregnant; later they were awarded back wages and damages. And an attorney was offered a job with a small law firm in the District, only to report that it was rescinded when she told her boss she was expecting.

Nationwide in fiscal 2011, women filed 5,797 complaints with the EEOC alleging pregnancy discrimination at work or in hiring, a 23 percent increase from fiscal 2005.

These three cases, brought in lawsuits by the EEOC, show how pregnancy discrimination affects local women from varied professional backgrounds and fields 34 years after a federal law outlawed it. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 prohibits employers with 15 or more workers from discriminating based on pregnancy or childbirth, and pregnant women must be permitted to work as long as they are able, with any absences treated the same as any other disability leave.

Yet hundreds of women, many in low-paying jobs, see their paychecks disappear right after they tell their bosses of their pregnancies. Their stories recently were highlighted at an EEOC hearing on pregnancy discrimination.


(Daniel Zender/For Capital Business)

Many low-wage women face “an increasingly common pattern of discrimination” where their employer forces them to take an unpaid leave after learning of her pregnancy, said Sharon Terman, a senior staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society — Employment Law Center in San Francisco. The leave, she told the EEOC in a Feb. 15 hearing, is not based on medical need, but on the employers’ “unfounded assumption about the woman’s capacity to do her job.”

In the Rockville case, housekeeper Amada Lucero worked for Greystar Management Services, and had been performing her job satisfactorily, yet was fired soon after she revealed she was expecting, the EEOC charged in a Sept. 28, 2011, lawsuit. She was let go even though her doctor gave her written clearance to work.

The EEOC said it would not make Lucero and other plaintiffs available for comment, saying it didn’t want them talking during litigation.

Greystar employs more than 5,000 people and manages or owns 190,000 apartment and residential units in many major cities, including at least a dozen complexes in Washington.

“Greystar denies that it discriminated against Ms. Lucero or engaged in any unlawful behavior or wrongdoing toward Ms. Lucero. In fact, Greystar is committed to a policy of equal employment opportunity and strictly prohibits any discrimination against its team members,” the company said in a statement, declining further comment because of the litigation.

The Greystar case is far from unusual. Three-quarters of the 268 pregnancy-related EEOC lawsuits in the past decade alleged wrongful firing, while 10 percent brought claims of unlawful failure to hire. The suits often come after EEOC investigators look into charges filed by individuals with their local EEOC offices.

Companies as diverse as Delta Air Lines, Chesapeake Bay Golf Club, Imagine Schools, Rehab Management of Maryland and Verizon have all paid restitution related to pregnancy discrimination, according to EEOC records.

“At the core, all of these cases involve employers who held stereotypical assumptions about pregnant women,” EEOC general counsel David Lopez said during the hearing.

Some settlements include payment of back wages to workers who were let go. SoBran, a defense contractor in Fairfax, paid back wages of more than $61,000 to two women, and $20,000 in compensatory damages to one of them in a 2008 consent decree. The defense contractor also agreed to train its managers, HR people and staff on sex and pregnancy discrimination laws.

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