Kiyoko Rubio was assigned to the Hyatt House Hotel in February, 2016. She worked as a room attendant without incident until June of that year, when she was told she was being promoted to a supervisory role. Rubio states that “moments later”, she notified her supervisors that were present at the meeting that she was pregnant. Only six days later, she claims she was terminated. She filed a lawsuit in August of this year alleging pregnancy discrimination, and the case is still ongoing.
The scenario is one that occurs more than you would imagine, and also goes unreported more than you would imagine. A woman notifies her employers that she is pregnant, and suddenly she has “performance problems” that were never mentioned before. Perhaps she is placed on a Performance Improvement Plan or given write-ups for unsubstantial reasons. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, she is terminated.
There are other signs that suggest pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, which may include but are not limited to:
- Failure of the employer to provide time or a location to pump breast milk
- Failure to accommodate time off for doctor’s appointments
- Sudden termination in proximity to taking/requesting maternity leave
- Failure to honor work restrictions placed by a doctor
So why are the employers committing discrimination seeming to go unscathed for their actions? It typically comes down to a few main reasons.
Many Women Fear Retaliation and/or Lasting Career Damage
Those who are still employed fear termination, those who have already been terminated fear that their names will be dragged through the mud with prospective employers.
However, there are a few things to consider if you fall into this category. The first being that both parties in most cases make every effort to resolve the dispute before a lawsuit is filed, so there is no public record of the incident. The second thing to consider is that employers hate being sued just as much as employees hate having to initiate legal action – they have a reputation at risk as well and typically try to avoid negative publicity at all costs. Finally, retaliation for initiating a case could result in additional litigation against the employer.
The Misconception that “At-Will” Means You Have No Recourse
While “at-will” employment leaves little room for wrongful termination in many common scenarios for disgruntled employees (i.e. the boss just didn’t like me for some reason), there are exemptions to this rule. Discrimination against a protected class (pregnancy included) would be one of them.
Being Discouraged by Lack of Direct Evidence (Proof)
As with most types of discrimination lawsuits, pregnancy discrimination is rarely obvious. Sure, it’s possible for an employer to blatantly say that pregnant women don’t belong in the workplace. There are even some that may be foolish enough to put this in writing. But the reality is, 99.99% of cases do not have this component. Instead, attorneys work to prove the pregnancy discrimination using other case facts which arrive at the same conclusion. These facts may include your work/performance history prior to the pregnancy, disputing the phony reasoning for termination given by the employer, or showing that similarly situated employees have experienced the same scenario. One advantage to a pregnancy discrimination case over other types of discrimination is that it eliminates a challenging factor – pregnancy itself is not always obvious. While other traits can be apparent at the time of hire (such as race or gender), pregnancy is not always present or visible.
So, What Now?
The bottom line in all of this – treatment towards pregnant women in the workplace will never change without companies being held accountable. The only way that companies will be held accountable, is if people come forward and take a stand against this behavior. Start by documenting any negative behavior exhibited towards you after your pregnancy is made known – save emails, write down comments and who made them, ask for copies of write-ups or disciplinary actions. Then, present your information to an employment attorney, namely one that specializes in employment matters.
At Aegis Law Firm, we only represent employees against their employers, and specialize in certain case types within that scope. Pregnancy discrimination is one of them. Visit our pregnancy discrimination page to learn more