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Pregnancy discrimination plagues the workplace, EEOC says

In our last post we discussed a case involving a woman who pursued a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination due to lactation discrimination. Though such cases can appear to be unbelievable at this period in time, recent testimony reveals that pregnancy discrimination remains rampant in the American workplace.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently voiced concerns about the prevalence of employment-related pregnancy discrimination in testimony submitted during a federal hearing. The EEOC highlighted the fact that this issue is widespread despite the presence of more than 30 years of federal employment law designed to protect pregnant women from disparate treatment at work.

Since 2001, the EEOC has resolved well over 50,000 pregnancy discrimination cases, which resulted in more than $150 million in damages. These cases involved issues as varied as wrongful termination, denial of space to pump breast milk, forced leave without proper compensation and denial of promotional opportunities.

Testimony revealed that while pregnancy discrimination affects women at every level of employment, it is most prevalent among workers in low-paying jobs. In addition, sexual stereotyping is a contributing factor across the board.

Witnesses theorized that gray areas in the law are inspiring confusion, which is in turn contributing to problematic employer behavior. As a result, some stated that publicizing increasingly clear guidelines may help alleviate the problem. A social media campaign was suggested as a way to potentially spread the word.

Pregnancy discrimination is unacceptable and should not be as widespread as it is in this day and age. However, increased efforts on the part of federal regulators to inform workers about their rights and employers about their duty to avoid discrimination may be a step in the right direction.

Source: Reuters, "Working pregnant women face rampant discrimination: agency," Ian Simpson, Feb. 15, 2012

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