It’s against federal law and many state laws to discriminate against pregnant employees but employers are a crafty lot, according to Reginald Byron. Byron says employers get away with firing pregnant employees by using legal excuses that may or may not actually apply to the individual.

Byron, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, teamed up with Vincent Roscigno, an Ohio State University Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences, to explore the real reasons so many women get fired when their pregnancy becomes apparent.

To gather data for analysis, the team turned to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission where they found 70 cases of verified pregnancy-based firings between 1986 and 2003 and 15 more cases between 2007 and 2011. In all 85 cases, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission represented the pregnant women. Some of their findings include:

  • 40% of all gender-related dismissals were due to pregnancy.
  • Approximately 30% of the time, employers cited poor performance as the reason to terminate a pregnant worker.
  • 15% of the employers claimed poor attendance and / or tardiness were the reason pregnant employees were fired.
  • In about 10% of the cases, the firing was said to be the result of “business needs, profit and efficiency,” not pregnancy.

The June 2014 issue of the journal, Gender & Society, will carry the results of the study, which is titled “Relational Power, Legitimation, and Pregnancy Discrimination.” In the report, the case of a pregnant restaurant worker is described.

The unidentified woman was an assistant restaurant manager when she became pregnant. Her supervisor soon fired her, claiming the company was undergoing a restructure that would eliminate one assistant restaurant manager position — hers. “Business reasons” were cited as the cause of her dismissal when she filed suit against the employer. It wasn’t long after the pregnant woman was fired that the restaurant hired a man for the assistant manager position that had supposedly been eliminated.

Byron says, “Some employers think pregnant women will be distracted both in the present and in the future,” so their job performance is expected to suffer. They get fired before any true due cause occurs. It’s also expected they probably won’t follow up on happenings in the workplace once they’re no longer employed so they wouldn’t know that a man might have been hired to replace them.

In spite of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, the discrimination against pregnant workers continues. Byron says this continued practice only compounds gender inequalities associated with the workplace, including inequalities of hiring, harassment, and wages.

Source: “Pregnancy and the Firing Line.” Southwestern Newsroom. Southwestern University. Feb 17, 2014. Web. Mar 12, 2014.

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