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Reported Complaints Do Not Reflect Full Scope of Pregnancy Discrimination Incidents

Reported Complaints Do Not Reflect Full Scope of Pregnancy Discrimination Incidents

September 26, 2014 — Although more women are filing pregnancy discrimination claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, some remain hesitant to report pregnancy discrimination and face challenges when trying to prove the claims in court, according to The Atlantic (Cunha, The Atlantic, 9/24).

Overall, pregnancy-related complaints to EEOC increased by 46% from 1997 through 2011, according to the agency's most recent data. In response, EEOC in July released new enforcement guidelines reminding employers that they are prohibited from discriminating against workers based on past, future or current pregnancies (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/16).

According to The Atlantic, some pregnant workers who experience discrimination fear retribution from current or former employers if they report the incidents.

Colorado-based attorney Brian Stutheit said, "The law clearly states the employer can't retaliate against a woman speaking up for her rights, but many employers do it anyway. They just find another reason down the road." Often employees will be treated well for a period of time after the complaint was filed and then fired months later for an unrelated reason, he said.

Similarly, employment attorney Diane King said, "There are many more women discriminated against in the workplace due to pregnancy, family, and gender than will ever come forward to file a claim." She noted that some women might avoid filing claims for fear of receiving a bad reference, adding, "In some businesses, a simple wink and nod can ruin your chances of getting the next job."

Stutheit said women who do sue their employers can face challenges proving the discrimination in court. According to The Atlantic, filming inappropriate behavior in the workplace often violates privacy laws, so most evidence in the cases is considered circumstantial unless there is a documented paper trail. Stutheit added that it can be difficult to convince eyewitnesses to testify because they fear that they will jeopardize their own job (The Atlantic, 9/24).