Our friend Joeli Brearly first launched Pregnant Then Screwed in the U.K. after a nightmare situation. When she told her boss that she was 4 weeks pregnant, they said: “Congratulations, but we are really concerned about how this will affect our charity.” The next day, Joeli says “they sacked me by voicemail.”
You can imagine how she felt. She describes herself as “shocked, angry and utterly heartbroken. Being 4 months pregnant and unemployed is a terrifying position to find yourself in, and my confidence
was on the floor and I believed that my career was over.”
After she had her baby and joined parenting groups, Joeli realized she was far from alone as she slowly shared her story with other moms. She’s since launched U.S. and Spanish versions of Pregnant Then Screwed, and her project is a platform for women to expose and gain support for some of the injustices that pregnant and postpartum women experience at work.
As you can imagine, the anonymous stories on Pregnant Then Screwed are sad and terrible. Here are just two examples:
First, Joeli advises that you write everything down. Keep good notes and records about incidents and hold on to any email
or performance review that indicates you’re doing a good job. Regardless of whether you ever use this paperwork in a lawsuit, keep them for yourself and any conversations you plan on having with your HR department or manager.
Second, we are big believers in getting educated quickly about your rights. Pregnant women are a protected class under the law (at least if you work for an employer with at least 15 employees) and are entitled to certain protections and accommodations. We get it: you’re probably more busy thinking about your health and baby than legal rights, so here’s a “totally non-boring guide” to get you started.
Third, consider non-legal ways to address the issue. Joeli says that sometimes addressing problems “head on can solve the problem” which may be simply due to misunderstanding and poor communication.
Can you discuss your situation with your manager (or your boss’ manager) or talk to your HR department? If so, you may be able to solve the problem. Other times, this isn’t an option because the culture is not supportive or the politics too difficult. You know your workplace dynamics and personalities better than anyone else.Finally, consult a lawyer about your situation. Usually an initial consultation is free, or you can approach a non-profit organization like American Association for University Women or the American Civil Liberties Union for a referral. An attorney will help you better understand the risks, costs and likelihood of success.
For most of us, suing our employer is the last thing we want to do. Not only is there great financial and emotional expense involved, but discrimination can also be difficult to prove. Still, sometimes you may have no choice. Pregnancy discrimination lawsuits are on the uptick. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, over 5,000 pregnancy discrimination lawsuits were filed in 2013. That’s up from under 4,000 in 1997. Just remember that you typically have to make a decision about taking legal action within 180 days.
Whatever you decide, you can always get some moral support from our community or the women sharing their stories on Pregnant Then Screwed. Hang in there!