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Fighting Pregnancy Discrimination Shouldn’t Be This Hard

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

Many women who struggle with pregnancy discrimination struggle in silence. Chelsey Glasson joins the blog today to bring light to this very important issue and share her own personal experiences.

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Every night after a long day of work, I put my two young children to bed and sit down at my kitchen table to tackle what feels like a third full-time job: pursuing a claim of pregnancy discrimination against my former employer. I spend hours writing responses to complicated discovery questions, combing through countless old text messages, and gathering thousands of pages of emails. I’ll use most of my vacation time this year being deposed by lawyers, interviewed by psychiatrists, and appearing in court.

I wouldn’t wish my situation on anyone, but I keep fighting because I know there are so many women who aren’t even able to begin this battle.

Federal pregnancy discrimination lawsuits are on the rise during Covid-19—jumping 16% in 2020, even as more than two million women have left the workforce. As troubling as these new statistics are, they only tell part of the story; the real toll of pregnancy discrimination has always been hidden. For every woman who files a lawsuit at the state or federal level, there are thousands more suffering in silence—afraid of retaliation, losing their immigration status, or ruining their careers. Even for women like me, who have the security and the resources to fight this fight, it’s a monumental, all-consuming effort.

I’m in my third year of fighting the pregnancy discrimination that I experienced during my time as a user researcher at Google, and sometimes it feels like there’s no end in sight.

For years after Google hired me in 2013, I enjoyed only glowing performance reviews, regular pay increases, and positive relationships with my colleagues and managers. But in 2019— following months of persistent discrimination and harassment in response to my second pregnancy—I sought legal guidance and decided to quit Google during my maternity leave rather than accepting a small severance payment and signing a non-disclosure agreement. I said goodbye to my dream career at what I thought was the most ethical tech company in the world.

I’m a white, educated, cisgender woman in a double-income marriage, and I’m barely hanging on. I experience crippling anxiety daily, and a full night of sleep is a rarity these days. I can’t imagine what women in less privileged circumstances are up against. How many are not taking legal action because the sacrifices involved are simply too great?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Our country needs financially accessible paths to fighting pregnancy discrimination that hold employers accountable while protecting the identities of women who experience discrimination. This is supposed to be what the EEOC does, but the organization is broken. Trump-era policies have hollowed out the EEOC’s workforce and mandate, resulting in record low staff numbers and new policies that favor employers, discourage investigations, and encourage victims to accept lower settlements. Despite a rise in claims, the commission’s funding has remained mostly flat for two decades, creating a backlog of over 40,000 cases and almost half of EEOC staff reporting they don’t have the resources to do their jobs.

And in most cases, women have only six months from the date of discrimination to file a complaint. When you’re in the midst of pregnancy or caring for a newborn, that’s an impossibly short amount of time —especially during COVID-19. Women should have two full years to report pregnancy discrimination to the EEOC.

It’s not just women who stand to lose as pregnancy discrimination proliferates. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, babies born to mothers who experienced perceived pregnancy discrimination in their workplaces are more likely to have lower birth weights, lower gestational ages, and an increased number of doctor visits in infancy.

We desperately need comprehensive EEOC reform as a means to combat pregnancy discrimination in this country. Women without the resources to retain attorneys, or the bandwidth (or interest) in filing public-facing lawsuits, need and deserve pathways to justice. Without them, companies will continue to discriminate with little threat of recourse.

Despite the challenges I know I’ll face ahead, I’m grateful to still be employed in tech and to be in a position to help other women. Every week, women seek me out for guidance as they contemplate beginning their own fight against pregnancy discrimination. Our conversations always start the same: It shouldn’t be this hard.

A similar but extended version of this article was originally published on FastCompany.

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