Lawyers for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission say pregnancy discrimination cases show some of the most overt, if unconscious, discrimination of any cases they litigate. Now, new data released by the EEOC show that that discrimination hits virtually every industry and every geographic area of the country.
EEOC and employment lawyers say they’ve litigated cases from blue collar, pink collar and white collar professions. One Arlington, Va., lawyer sued on behalf of an executive who was sidelined for merely saying she might get pregnant. And Lyndsay Kirkham, a Toronto-based editor and writer, set Twitter on fire recently when she live tweeted what she said were snippets of IBM executives’ lunch conversation about how they prefer not to hire young women because they’ll get pregnant. (IBM did not respond to ThinkProgress, where the story appeared.)
But the new data shows clearly that pregnancy discrimination claims filed with the EEOC are made primarily by women in low-wage fields.
The health care and social assistance field shows the largest number of cases in 2013, followed by the retail industry, accommodations and food services, administrative support and manufacturing.
A woman bus driver was forced out on unpaid leave because her supervisor worried she’d get morning sickness and pose a danger to passengers, according to case files. Another was fired for insubordination for carrying a water bottle, that her doctor recommended, to prevent pregnancy-related bladder infection.
Suzanne Seger, a midwife in San Francisco, helped a patient who was an airport security worker. Although she asked for an accommodation — a uniform that would expand as she did — her employer required that she first get a note from the doctor. “She was supposed to wear a bow tie with her uniform, but as her neck girth increased, it was choking her,” said Seger, who wrote the note requesting an accommodation, rather than forcing her to leave. “A lot of pregnant women are interested in continuing to perform the functions of their job, they just need some help — and some are pretty simple — a stool, water, more frequent bathroom breaks.”
Dina Bakst heads A Better Balance, an advocacy firm pushing for clarity in the legal protections for pregnant workers and fair accommodations — the Supreme Court is set to take up a case, Young v. UPS, to determine whether employers must provide pregnancy-related accommodations to workers if they provide them to those injured on the job.
She said that for low-wage workers, being denied a reasonable accommodation and forced out on leave can often mean putting a family at economic risk.
“We know pregnancy discrimination impacts women most in non-traditional and low-wage sector jobs,” Bakst said. “It’s like they’re holding up a sign saying, ‘You’re not welcome.’ ”
The newly released EEOC statistics also show where claims have been filed geographically. In 2013, the EEOC’s Miami district saw the highest number of cases filed, followed by Philadelphia and Charlotte.