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“Maternal wall:” Fighting ingrained bias at the workplace

When bias prevents mothers from professional advancement, it has been coined the “maternal wall.” It has a huge impact on who gets the senior leadership positions. This bias against working mothers is receiving more attention. It was the subject of at least one front page New York Times piece in the last month.

While motherhood is not itself a protected class, any discrimination related to pregnancy is a form of gender discrimination. And many mothers of babies and toddlers find that sick leave doesn't always cover days home with ear infections, fevers, hand foot mouth outbreaks at daycare and/or medical appointments. If an employer threatens termination or takes away important projects in retaliation, it may be classified as family-responsibilities discrimination.

 

How it happens

When a leader in women’s health complains about an employee who recently got pregnant, it’s clear the bias is wide spread. An Illinois woman heard her employer flat out say he preferred working with people who did not have children. Then she never received promised compensation even after meeting sales goals. Rescheduling a meeting to care for a sick child was an apparent last straw and her employer fired her. She took her employer to court.

Another story comes from Colorado where a mother did not receive a promotion. Her employer assumed she could not relocate or work the required 50 to 60 hours and explained she already “had a full-time job at home with her children.” But the company made its decision without asking her for input. She won her discrimination lawsuit.

When to start the EEOC complaints process

The consequences of this type of bias are profound and play a role in the earnings gap between men and women that develops between the two decades from ages 25 to 45. What can you do when management puts in place policies or acts in a way that has a negative effect on your career?

You can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission related to these two types of discrimination. Generally, these cases settle through mediation outside of the courtroom. In situations with an unreasonable employer, you have the option to sue in federal court.

If this all sounds too familiar, do something about it. Get individualized legal guidance from an experienced employment attorney who handles these cases on a day-to-day basis. Learn your rights and then make sure they are respected.

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