Can women still work while they are pregnant?
I know — 1960 called and wants my stupid question back.
This inquiry seems to have been made, answered, litigated and legislated decades ago.
But two newly resolved cases in the nation’s capital show us just how wrong that assumption is. Male bosses are still baffled — and sometimes outraged — by pregnant employees.
These particular women are from vastly different ends of Washington’s social, educational and economic spectrums — a spy and a burrito maker. But the similarities in the way they were treated is striking.
Five years ago, both had older children, both were well-regarded workers and both were penalized when they told their bosses that they were pregnant.
The good news is that both the spy and the burrito maker have won their discrimination cases, not only getting back pay but also encouraging other pregnant women to demand their rights in the workplace.
The spy — okay, maybe the official term is intelligence officer, but the documents use her “ghost name” and call her assignment “Country X,” so I’m going with spy because it sounds cool — still works for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The burrito maker, Doris Garcia Hernandez, 31, worked for the Dupont Circle Chipotle, but got fired not long after she told her boss she was pregnant in 2011.
The toll her pregnancy took on the burrito line? It meant that she needed to use the bathroom a little more often, had to take an extra sip of water while working and sometimes shifted her schedule around so she could go to doctor’s appointments.
Though her performance reviews were stellar and her work pace didn’t lag, she testified she was humiliated and her bodily functions were micromanaged by her male supervisor before she was fired.
A D.C. jury believed her and awarded Hernandez $550,000 in damages this month.
A spokesman for Chipotle told The Washington Post that the company stands by the boss’s actions as “legal and appropriate” in this case, but the company doesn’t plan to appeal.
Christine Tschiderer, an attorney for the Washington Lawyers’ Committee who helped represent Hernandez, said the case is important because pregnant women in low-wage retail and food industries encounter discrimination all the time. Women in these cases rarely speak up.
“So much of the discussion on women in the workforce is about paid leave and glass ceilings,” Tschiderer said. “We hear a lot about high-level women, women who don’t have someone else decide when they are allowed to go to the bathroom” or pump breast milk.
Women have been fighting pregnancy discrimination for decades, starting in 1908 when the Supreme Court upheld a decision limiting women’s work because of “maternal functions.” Seventy years later, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
But some employers still treat pregnant workers like they are a problem. Peggy Young, a UPS driver from Landover, Md., was forced to take unpaid leave when she got pregnant in 2006 because her doctor recommended that she not lift packages heavier than 20 pounds early in her pregnancy and 10 pounds by the end. The Supreme Court sided with her in a decision last year that allows her to continue pursuing her case against UPS.
Even women with college degrees and impressive jobs can face outrageous roadblocks.
Let’s talk about the spy, whose ghost name is “Roxanne.”
Roxanne has a law degree, worked in the Middle East/Africa division for the DIA and was a veteran of other deployments when she was chosen for a big, high-paying assignment as a liaison officer in “Country X.”
Before going, she had to take a mandatory 14-week training course.
Turns out she was pregnant and would be close to her due date during the last five days of the training, when they practice defensive driving and hostage scenarios.
Her bosses freaked.
One of her commanders even worried that her pregnancy would affect her balance and make “walking up the stairs” difficult, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which ruled in her favor last month.
Roxanne had been pregnant before and knew she could handle it, but she offered to sit through all 13 weeks of classroom training, then come back and do the physical part of the course a couple months later, according to the EEOC decision.
The bosses didn’t want Roxanne to do the training in split shifts, so they offered to move her to the training class four months later.
Roxanne agreed, had her baby and filed an EEOC complaint alleging that the way she’d been treated violated the country’s Pregnancy Discrimination Act, said Debra D’Agostino, the attorney at the Federal Practice Group who represented Roxanne.
When she was ready to go to the later session, she learned that she hadn’t been enrolled in it.
That, the EEOC concluded, was retaliation for her discrimination complaint, according to their decision.
The Defense Intelligence Agency did not respond to requests for comment.
The EEOC ordered that Roxanne get another offer like the one yanked from her five years ago, that she get back pay as though she’d had the $250,000-per-year position all along, that the bosses at the intelligence agency undergo harassment training, and that the judge’s ruling be posted in the agency’s Middle East/Africa office, where Roxanne worked before moving on to a different assignment within the agency.
This is pretty big.
The Federal Practice Group, where D’Agostino works, represents other women in the intelligence community whose supervisors, she said, “sound like they’re from another decade.”
Back to 2016, folks. And let’s stay here.
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