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Pregnancy discrimination persists

| Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Starting a family is a desire that more than 9 in 10 adults have. Yet the careers of women continue to be derailed by this desire in the 21st century. There are many laws and protections against the discrimination of pregnant women, but it is still a looming hurdle for women in the workplace. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes legislation on parental leave and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which mandates that pregnant employees be treated the same as their non-pregnant coworkers. This act protects women who are currently pregnant, have been pregnant, intend on getting pregnant and any women who have medical conditions related to pregnancy. 

Charges of pregnancy discrimination can be filed with the EEOC or Fair Employment Practices Agencies. This data suggests that the number of pregnancy discrimination charges have increased by 50% from 1997 to 2011, from 4,000 filings to 6,000 filings in 2011. Other research suggests that pregnancy discrimination has become much more rampant in the workplace in recent decades. Childbirth Connection, an initiative focused on improving maternity care, estimated that “approximately 250,000 pregnant workers are denied requests for accommodations each year. In addition, many women fear retaliation from employers, which may lead them to not report pregnancy-related discrimination or to avoid asking for accommodations entirely.” 

Overall, while there is unequivocal legislation protecting pregnant women from discrimination in the workplace, it is still a widespread problem. Many women fear retaliation for requesting maternity leave, being denied a raise or promotion due to their pregnancy and even being fired for becoming pregnant. Pregnancy discrimination is a huge disruption to a woman’s career and earning power, even though the overwhelming majority of adults want or have children. Elizabeth Warren told her story of losing her job due to pregnancy on the Democratic debate stage this month, and called for action on this issue. 

We became interested in this issue after reading an article on pregnancy discrimination at Google. The article referred to an employee at Google who was told by her boss to “manage” a pregnant team member. After becoming pregnant herself, she received inappropriate comments, hostility and was even excluded from various projects and positions by her boss. When developing medical issues during the pregnancy, her boss made it clear that her job upon returning was at stake if she left, and “debunked the benefits of bedrest.” She was later told by HR that her “manager did a poor job of communicating the scope of my new role,” and the managerial exclusion was simply an “administrative error.” 

This was especially surprising to us because two of the people involved in the discrimination were women themselves. This shows how pervasive this issue really is, especially in the male-dominated tech industry. Women are so underrepresented at the highest levels that even they participate in discrimination they themselves have likely faced. If even women can’t stand up against pregnancy discrimination, how is this issue supposed to improve at all? Reading this article and the statistics above, show the inherent cultural view that exists surrounding this issue: if women prioritize parenthood, they can’t also prioritize their job. Despite increasing legislation, the discrimination is getting worse, even at so-called progressive companies such as Google. As senior women about to enter the workforce, we found this phenomenon extremely relevant and sobering. As the next generation of workers, we have the power to create the workplace culture that we want to participate in, and we call on all Notre Dame students to use this power for good. 


Gabrielle Good 


Bridget Ralph 


Chloe Spurgat


Feb. 28

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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