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PREGNANCY & CHILDBIRTH | Pregnancy Discrimination Complaints At Record Levels, Wall Street Journal Reports

PREGNANCY & CHILDBIRTH | Pregnancy Discrimination Complaints At Record Levels, Wall Street Journal Reports
[March 27, 2008]

Complaints of pregnancy discrimination have reached record levels, suggesting that pregnancy discrimination persists and more women are speaking out against possible bias against pregnant women and women with children, Wall Street Journal columnist Sue Shellenbarger reported on Thursday. Shellenbarger suggests that such complaints are likely to increase in part because of shifting demographics and new advocacy among working women who have children.

Pregnancy discrimination complaints recorded by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2007 increased by 14% to 5,587 complaints, compared with 2006. Such complaints have increased by 40% since 1997. The number of complaints in 2007 also represented the largest annual increase in such complaints in 13 years. EEOC received 20,400 inquiries related to pregnancy discrimination at its call center last year, and "thousands" more people inquired about pregnancy discrimination at fair-employment offices nationwide, Shellenbarger reports. The advocacy group 9to5 National Association of Working Women also reported an increase in pregnancy bias inquiries on its telephone hotline.

According to Shellenbarger, many women are working longer into their pregnancies, and they often assume the law will protect them from any unfair actions. The advocacy group -- which has 130,000 members -- has launched a campaign against discrimination of pregnant women, or women who have or plan to have children.

The increase also shows that many women are confused by the protection provided in the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Shellenbarger reports. Under the law, pregnant women do not receive protection from adverse treatment, and employers can fire, lay off or refuse to hire pregnant women. However, the law states that pregnant women cannot be singled out, that employers must prove that men are held to the same standards and that male job candidates are asked comparable questions during the hiring process. In addition, many women who inquire about the act do not realize that the federal Family and Medical Leave Act does not require paid maternity leave and guarantees only unpaid leave, according to Shellenbarger. Two states, California and Washington, require paid maternity leave.

Women seeking to file a pregnancy discrimination claim usually must be able to prove that their pregnancy or status as mothers prompted an adverse action, Shellenbarger reports. "Any action involving a pregnant woman has to be well-documented and well-justified," Jocelyn Frye, general counsel for the National Partnership for Women & Families, said, adding, "Nobody should be finding out on maternity leave that she has performance issues" (Shellenbarger, Wall Street Journal, 3/27).