Why pregnancy discrimination is so hard to prove

Since Monday, the political news cycle has been unusually preoccupied with pregnancy discrimination—specifically, an anecdote of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s. It’s one she returns to on the campaign trail—and one that likely feels all too familiar for many of the women listening.As Warren tells it, she was fired from her first teaching job because she was…

Why pregnancy discrimination is so hard to prove

Since Monday, the political news cycle has been unusually preoccupied with pregnancy discrimination—specifically, an anecdote of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s. It’s one she returns to on the campaign trail—and one that likely feels all too familiar for many of the women listening.As Warren tells it, she was fired from her first teaching job because she was pregnant: When she was six months along and visibly pregnant, the principal told Warren the job she had secured for the following year was going to someone else instead. The year was 1971—seven years before Congress passed legislation to outlaw pregnancy discrimination.
When I was 22 and finishing my first year of teaching, I had an experience millions of women will recognize. By June I was visibly pregnant—and the principal told me the job I’d already been promised for the next year would go to someone else.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 8, 2019But this week, right-leaning media outlets called into question Warren’s claims, citing a 2007 interview that characterizes the experience differently and a transcript from a 1971 school board meeting obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, which indicates Warren’s teaching contract was extended.In an interview with CBS News, Warren stood her ground, noting that she had been hiding her pregnancy and the board decision preceded her termination. “I was pregnant, but nobody knew it,” Warren told CBS News. “And then a couple of months later when I was six months pregnant and it was pretty obvious, the principal called me in, wished me luck, and said he was going to hire someone else for the job.” In interviews with retired teachers from Warren’s school, CBS News found that there was an unspoken rule at the time that female employees should see themselves out about five months into their pregnancy.The doubt cast on Warren’s story may be politically motivated, but it also exemplifies why pregnancy discrimination—not unlike sexual harassment in the workplace—is so often dismissed. Those who haven’t experienced pregnancy discrimination firsthand may not recognize how insidious it is, even four decades after the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.Even when people take their employers to court, it can be hard to provide incontrovertible evidence that an employer’s actions were the result of pregnancy discrimination. A lawsuit filed against retailer Nasty Gal in 2015, for example, alleged targeted layoffs of three pregnant employees and a male worker who was about to take patern
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