After a law is passed to deal with a form of discrimination, many people naively assume that that action solves the issue and ends that type of discrimination. However, merely placing a law on the books is a long way from ending the discrimination.
Pregnancy discrimination has been illegal for more than four decades. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits treating women differently because of their pregnancy, but sadly, it seems in many workplaces, we are still trapped in a “Man Men” work environment, where “girls” work for men with offices.
A case involving a woman who was pregnant when she applied for a job illustrates the point. A form asked if the applicant was pregnant or had some other condition that left her “unable to perform her duties,” she was supposed to inform the manager, and it went on benignly, the purpose of the notice was “to prevent accidents.”
When her pregnancy was discovered, she was fired for “dishonesty.” Of course, the question on the form was illegal. An employer is prohibited by law from asking such a question, so her failure to answer the question could not be deemed dishonest, given the illegal nature of the inquiry.
Perhaps attitudes would change more quickly and employers would not be so caviler in their reckless disregard of these types of prohibitions if so doing brought criminal punishment. If owners, managers, and their legal department could be sent to jail for placing questions like this in job applications, it is likely this type of questioning would cease.
But that is not the case, and instead, workers have to bring their cases after they have suffered harm. In the pregnant woman’s cases, the state human rights commission upheld her complaint and ordered her employer to pay her “$5,636 in lost wages, interest and expenses.”
When it comes to workers rights to be free from discrimination, to paraphrase, the price of preventing workplace discrimination is eternal vigilance.
Mcall.com, “Discrimination still a barrier for pregnant workers,” Paul Muschick, March 9, 2015