New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is directing a state agency to investigate pregnancy discrimination at Wal-Mart, Merck, Novartis and Glencore.
Cuomo, reports The New York Times, told reporters that the Division of Human Rights will lead the investigation and run advertisements on the city’s subways. The advertisements will provide information and a hotline number that anyone can call to report instances of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.
The state’s directive was directly spurred by a Times article which revealed ‘widespread discrimination against new and expecting mothers’ in some of American’s largest companies.
“Discrimination against those who are pregnant is illegal,” said Cuomo, “and we will hold employers who violate the law fully accountable.”
New York—along with 23 states and the District of Columba—has laws requiring employers to provide pregnant women with “reasonable accommodations.” The Times says the legislation is more specific than federal statutes, which simply stipulate that expectant mothers must be treated “similar in their ability or inability to work” as other workers.
State law directs companies to provide pregnant women with ‘rest breaks, light duty or a transfer from a dangerous job.’
By poring over ‘thousands of pages’ of court documents and public records, the Times identified what it calls a clear pattern—the systematic and regular sidelining of pregnant women in the American workplace. Along with being passed over for promotions or refused raises, expectant mothers employed in physical labor can face far more blatant abuses. The NYT claims that, in many cases, women who ask to carry water bottles or take irregular rest breaks ‘risk losing their jobs.’
In the world of big corporations, slights are comparatively subtle but no less drastic. Studies have shown that women can expect to lose 4% of their hourly wages per child. Strangely, men’s earnings increase by 6% when they becme fathers.
The Times says the studies controlled for experience, education, marital status and weekly hours before arriving to its concusion.
“Some women hit the maternal wall long before the glass ceiling,” said Joan C. Williams of University of California Hastings College of Law. “There are 20 years of lab studies that show the bias exists and that, once triggered, it’s very strong.”
The Times gives the example of Erin Murphy, a trader at Glencore.
Murphy says, prior to her second pregnancy, she was oft-described as one of the office’s hardest working employees.
After eight months carrying, Murphy asked her boss about possible promotions. Her manager—the same one who’d praised her performance in workplace reviews—purportedly said, “You’re old and having babies and there’s nowhere for you to go.”
Even after making concessions to ensure motherhood didn’t interfere with her productivity, Murphy stopped raking in bonuses and receiving raises.
Another woman interviewed by the times claims she was fired for refusing to work with heavy chemicals at a Maryland Wal-Mart. A company spokesperson said the accusations are exaggerated.
Gov. Cuomo’s counsel, Alphonso David, said the state may open investigations into companies besides Wal-Mart, Glencore, Merck and Novartis if new information becomes available. David is hoping the state’s outreach campaign may reach victimized women.
“We are hopeful that to the extent women are suffering from pregnancy discrimination they come forward,” said David. “They do not have to hire a lawyer or spend their resources or their money, because we will represent their interests free of charge.”