More Women Fight Back Against Anti-Pregnancy Bias at Work

Margaret Lynch, with son, Ryan, filed a bias claim with the EEOC, which says pregnancy complaints are one of the fastest-growing classes of charges.
Margaret Lynch, with son, Ryan, filed a bias claim with the EEOC, which says pregnancy complaints are one of the fastest-growing classes of charges. (By Jill Sagers-wijangco For The Washington Post)
By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 31, 2005

Margaret Lynch, an emergency room doctor, said she was told when she was hired that she would eventually be offered an ownership interest in the practice that supplied the facility's doctors.

She kept the same hours as the other doctors and became the emergency room's assistant director.

But after her complicated second pregnancy, she said, she was offered a smaller stake than the male doctors -- and only after she pushed them for it.

"I was told in March 2000 that I was not going to get partnership based on the fact I had gone on bed rest with the pregnancy, and they were afraid I might become pregnant again in the future," she said.

So Lynch, like a growing number of women, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming she was discriminated against based on pregnancy.

Pregnancy discrimination claims filed with the EEOC claims have risen 33 percent in recent years, to 4,512 in 2004 from 3,385 in 1992. Some of that increase reflects a growing number of women working during and after their pregnancies, but not all of it. During the same period, the percentage of working women with children younger than 18 rose by 5.2 percent.

"I think women are finally coming forward in larger numbers to say, 'I have a right to have a job and a family, and I'm not going to take it,' " said Elizabeth Grossman, acting regional lawyer for the EEOC in New York. As a result, pregnancy complaints have become one of the fastest-growing classes of charges filed with the EEOC, just behind religion and national origin, despite the fact that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act has been on the books since 1978.

Grossman said instances of discrimination have not necessarily increased. Rather, the number of women willing to fight back has grown.

Grossman's office recently sued and won a settlement for a waitress who was removed from a managerial career track, denied work assignments and told to "consider her options" after she revealed she was pregnant. Ultimately, she was fired. The woman received $145,000 in a pregnancy discrimination settlement with her former employer.

"The stereotypes continue, and employers need to focus on this issue and train managers appropriately and take a good, hard look at their policies," Grossman said.

Since the case settled last year, Kam Wong, the EEOC attorney who handled the case, said her office has filed three similar actions.

Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, said women are increasingly unwilling to accept setbacks resulting from bias. She said she is seeing many more cases of pregnancy discrimination, where women are being "sidelined, not getting great assignments, passed up for promotions, raises." The cases "range from harder to define things to really being either forced out of your job or receiving unsubstantiated disciplinary action," she said. In the most egregious, "women start to get bad reviews when there is no basis."

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