[New York Times] As a medical assistant at Planned Parenthood, Ta’Lisa Hairston urged pregnant women to take rest breaks at work, stay hydrated and, please, eat regular meals.
Then she got pregnant and couldn’t follow her own advice.
Last winter, Ms. Hairston told the human-resources department for Planned Parenthood’s clinic in White Plains, N.Y., that her high blood pressure was threatening her pregnancy. She sent the department multiple notes from her nurse recommending that she take frequent breaks.
Managers ignored the notes. They rarely gave her time to rest or to take a lunch break, Ms. Hairston said.
“I had to hold back tears talking to pregnant women, telling them to take care of their pregnancies when I couldn’t take care of mine,” she said. “It made me jealous.”
Discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers remains widespread in the American workplace. It is so pervasive that even organizations that define themselves as champions of women are struggling with the problem.
That includes Planned Parenthood, which has been accused of sidelining, ousting or otherwise handicapping pregnant employees, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees.
[Pregnant women have faced discrimination at some of America’s biggest companies.]
In interviews and legal documents, women at Planned Parenthood and other organizations with a feminist bent described discrimination that violated federal or state laws — managers considering pregnancy in hiring decisions, for example, or denying rest breaks recommended by a doctor.
In other cases, the bias was more subtle. Many women said they were afraid to announce a pregnancy at work, sensing they would be seen as abandoning their colleagues.
Some of those employers saw accommodating expecting mothers as expensive and inconvenient. Others were unsympathetic to workers seeking special treatment.
At Natera, which sells genetic tests for pregnant women, two former employees, Melissa Blain Johnson and Judit Rigo, said they were demoted while on maternity leave. Ms. Johnson, who has sued Natera, also said that she was left feeling like a “guinea pig” when her boss suggested that she and another pregnant employee pose as patients and get genetically tested by a rival company.
“Ms. Johnson’s employment at Natera was not influenced inappropriately by her pregnancy or subsequent maternity leave,” said Anna Czene, a Natera spokeswoman. “The same was true for Ms. Rigo.”
At Avon, which calls itself “the company for women,” two employees in a cosmetics-testing lab have sued for being forced to handle toxic chemicals while pregnant. A marketing executive, Caroline Ruiz, also said she was fired four days after announcing her pregnancy.
Paige Cali, a spokeswoman for Avon, said the company “strongly denies claims of discrimination.”
At Mehri & Skalet, a progressive law firm suing Walmart for pregnancy discrimination, three lawyers have accused a founding partner, Cyrus Mehri, of mistreatment. Heidi Burakiewicz said Mr. Mehri pressured her to return early from maternity leave. Sandi Farrell was told to participate in a performance review during her leave, and when she asked to postpone it she was fired. Taryn Wilgus Null said Mr. Mehri questioned her child care arrangements in a performance review after she returned from leave.
Mr. Mehri said he strongly denied the accusations and that no one was mistreated after giving birth. He said that Ms. Burakiewicz’s allegation “is a lie, plain and simple,” that Ms. Farrell had performance problems and that Ms. Null, now a lawyer at the Justice Department, misinterpreted his comments.
[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Natalie Kitroeff and Jessica Silver-Goldberg and originally published at The New York Times]