Pregnancy discrimination stole the social media spotlight recently after questions arose over Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s account of being pushed out of a teaching job in the 1970s because she was pregnant.
Despite a 41-year-old federal law banning employers from discriminating on the basis of pregnancy or childbirth, complaints continue nationwide. But in Oklahoma, fewer women are reporting discrimination.
The number of complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office in Oklahoma City, which receives all statewide reports, has been dropping steadily for the past five years, according to data requested by Oklahoma Watch. In fiscal year 2019, which ended Sept. 30, 22 complaints were filed, the lowest number since at least 2014, the data shows.
The reports include women who were fired after revealing they were pregnant or while on maternity leave; were denied accommodations; were transferred to undesirable shifts after returning from leave; were questioned about their appearance and dedication during pregnancy, or received reduced bonuses.
Holly Waldron Cole, director of Oklahoma’s EEOC office, said she doesn’t know what has caused the drop in reports.
She said there are many reasons women might not file a report, including fear of retaliation or losing their job or lack of awareness about their rights.
An Oklahoma Watch search of lawsuits filed over the past 12 months revealed three lawsuits alleging pregnancy discrimination.
An Oklahoma County nurse practitioner was fired from Deaconess Physician Clinics in the summer of 2017, less than two weeks before her due date. Chelsea Kirk alleges that her boss began “ignoring and avoiding” her after she informed him that she was pregnant, according to her lawsuit. When she was about seven months pregnant, Kirk’s boss informed her that he had hired someone to replace her, she alleged. The news came around the same time Kirk’s maternity leave was approved by the clinic, according to the documents. Oklahoma Watch attempted to reach the attorney for the clinic by phone and email but did not receive a response.
Alva Police officer Jade Cooper reported she had worked for the city for five years when she disclosed her pregnancy to the police chief and assistant police chief and inquired about light duty in August 2017. Two weeks later, she was fired, according to the lawsuit. Cooper said she was told the reason was that she was not meeting her monthly ticket quota and failed to notify a supervisor when she missed work. Messages left with the city attorney were not returned.
An employee of Ulta Beauty in Oklahoma City was fired last summer after she said she informed her boss that she was pregnant and requested that she not be required to climb a ladder or be exposed to chemicals until after the baby was born. Sesily Morgan alleges that her boss denied her request for accommodation and repeatedly asked Morgan to fix her nails and dye her hair, which require the use of chemicals, according to the lawsuit. Messages left with the corporate office were not returned.