Hitting the ‘maternal wall’ – Pregnancy has long-term career costs for American women

Despite strides in corporate America to make workplaces friendlier for mothers, pregnancy continues to cause women to lose ground in their careers.

The reason, according to a report by the New York Times, is a persistent pattern of discrimination that women experience at all stages of pregnancy and motherhood.

The problem spans from the offices of corporate America to loading docks and warehouse jobs that place physical demands on their workers.

The American workplace is still hostile toward pregnant women, often paying them less than their male counterparts and refusing to accommodate their needs

‘Some women hit the maternal wall long before the glass ceiling,’ said Joan C. Williams, a professor at University of California Hastings College of Law in an interview with the Times. ‘There are 20 years of lab studies that show the bias exists and that, once triggered, it’s very strong.’

Every child a woman has costs a woman 4 percent of her hourly wage, according to a 2014 analysis by a sociologist at University of Massachusetts.

Serena Williams reacts after a point the women's singles final at the 2017 Australian Open tennis tournament. Williams later revealed she was 22-weeks pregnant during the competition

Serena Williams reacts after a point the women’s singles final at the 2017 Australian Open tennis tournament. Williams later revealed she was 22-weeks pregnant during the competition

Researchers at the U.S. Census bureau published a paper last year that found the pay gap between husbands and wives more than doubled by the time their first child has turned one, compared to two years prior to giving birth. While women tend to take maternity leave or stop working for a period of early child care, researchers said it did not explain the extent of the disparity. 

For women in jobs that are physical – requiring lifting, carrying and loading – women can risk losing their jobs when they ask for accommodations for their pregnant bodies. The discrimination tends to be more discrete in professional offices, where women may find plumb assignments taken away, client meetings held without them and a smaller bonus at the end of the year.

The list of companies sued by women claiming pregnancy discrimination continues to grow each year. For now it includes giants such as Walmart, Merck, AT&T and Whole Foods, among others.

Rachel Mountis started working with Merck in 2005 and rapidly received accolades and a promotion, but that all changed when she got pregnant. She was laid off a few weeks before her due date.

U.S. Maternity Leave

The only federal protection American women have when it comes to maternity leave is the Family and Medical Leave Act, also known as FMLA.

Employees are eligible for leave if they have worked for their employer at least 12 months, at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles 

FMLA doesn’t provide for any pay while mothers are out on leave. Instead it protects their job for up to 12 weeks after childbirth or adoption and prohibits employers from penalizing workers for taking the time off.

Typically, American women save up any paid vacation or sick leave to use during maternity leave – in the cases were employers provide those benefits.

Some companies do offer paid maternity or even paternity leave, but that is not required by law. 

Source: U.S. Department of Labor 

‘On paper, I was the same professional that I was nine months earlier,’ she told the New York Times. Being pregnant ‘was the only thing that was different.’

She was later rehired into a lower-paying position and was later demoted in 2012. In 2014 Mountis joined a class action lawsuit that challenges Merck’s treatment and pay of women. The case has not yet gone to trial.

A spokeswoman for the company told the Times that Merck ‘has a strong anti-discrimination policy.’ The spokeswoman said, Mountis ‘was supported throughout her career to ensure she had opportunities to advance and succeed.’

Peggy Young delivered packages for U.P.S. when she got pregnant in 2006. After her doctor instructed her not to lift heavy boxes she sought a light-duty job with the company. Instead, U.P.S. placed her on unpaid leave without health insurance.

Young sued and took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 6-3 in her favor in 2015 – though the case didn’t create a blanket legal precedent protecting expectant mothers. Instead it determined that if employers are accommodating groups of workers (such as the disabled) but not doing the same for pregnant women, they are likely violating the law.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk