When a former digital media sales executive returned from maternity leave last year, her welcome back was a rude awakening. Her accounts had all been handed to a new recruit — a recently hired man at a much higher salary than she received despite working at the company for years.
Jackelyn Keller filed those claims in a complaint on Jan. 11, accusing media firm Dotdash, formerly known as about.com, of perpetuating a “misogynistic” atmosphere by paying women less and discriminating against those who were pregnant. The company’s former vice president of revenue product said she consistently earned less than similarly-situated male peers. When she came back from her leave, her role had effectively been gutted. She eventually quit.
What happened to Keller seemed like part of a pattern, in retrospect, she alleged. From top-down, the media firm had a “bro culture,” valuing men’s contributions more than women’s, she said.
“For example, men would speak over their female peers, engage in ‘mansplaining,’ roll their eyes when women spoke, tell women to be quiet, belittle female professions as ‘girls’ and ask them to take notes at meetings,” she said in her complaint.
Pregnancy discrimination can also take other forms. In some instances, instead of having work taken away from them, pregnant employees get more — usually in a cruel bid to make life so miserable for them that they quit.
Amazon, the world’s largest retailer, is facing allegations of systemically harassing pregnant women working in its massive warehouses by slow-walking accommodations requests and piling on duties to the point of exhaustion.
According to her lawsuit filed in December, Michelle Posey, a woman who worked in the company’s Oklahoma City warehouse, normally was required to stand 10 hours per day and pack boxes weighing up to 70 pounds.
When she became pregnant, her doctor recommended she scale back to handling boxes less than 15 pounds, but the company refused to accommodate her. She eventually took unpaid time off and continued lobbying for job changes. When she returned to work mid-way through her pregnancy, her boss pushed her to move heavy boxes at a rapid pace until she collapsed from dehydration, she alleged.
The aggravations continued throughout Posey’s pregnancy, with her bosses continuing to demand that she move heavy boxes even after they agreed to give her less demanding roles. She eventually took unpaid leave again as the situation became untenable for her health, she alleged.
Discrimination against workers because of pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions is illegal under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and potentially the Americans with Disabilities Act. Businesses are forbidden from hiring, firing, demoting, laying off, or denying benefits to workers merely for becoming pregnant, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Companies also must accommodate workers if they are unable to perform their jobs generally due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions. Requirements are the same as if the employee had any other disability. Harassment of employees based on pregnancy is also barred by federal law. The Medical Leave Act provides pregnant employees with additional rights.
If you feel you have been harassed or treated unfairly in the workplace for being pregnant, you have every right to consult legal counsel and seek compensation. Victims can receive compensatory and punitive damages.
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