A bit of background: in 2007, 79 women joined a class-action law suit against Bloomberg L.P., the financial services and media company founded by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The suit, originally filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, argued that that the company engaged in a pattern of discrimination, including demotions and pay cuts, against pregnant women who took maternity leave. The lawsuit also alleged that pregnant women and new mothers were excluded from management meetings and subjected to stereotyping about their abilities to do their jobs because of their family and caregiver responsibilities.
Although the NYC mayor – and majority stakeholder of the company – was not a defendant, the suit maintained that “Michael Bloomberg is responsible for the creation of the systemic, top-down culture of discrimination against female employees.” According to an October 2007 New York Post article, court papers claim the mayor and current Bloomberg L.P. CEO Lex Fenwick continue to communicate about discrimination complaints by company employees and how the human-resources department responds. Disturbingly, Fenwick is also accused of telling another executive to fire two pregnant executives, saying, “I’m not having any pregnant bitches working for me.”
In a surprising move this week, Judge Loretta A. Preska dismissed the discrimination claims. According to the New York Times,
Judge Loretta A. Preska of United States District Court in Manhattan wrote that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had relied too much on anecdotes, and not on statistics, when it accused Bloomberg L.P. of discrimination.
In a strongly worded ruling issued Wednesday, she said that “the law does not mandate ‘work-life balance” […] and “even if there were several isolated instances of individual discrimination,” the commission had insufficient evidence to prove that discrimination was the company’s ‘standard operating procedure.’
Whether intended or not, Judge Preska’s message is that if one chooses motherhood, one chooses to be discriminated against. If you are a mother and want a high-paying, competitive job, you can’t have both? That, to me, is fundamentally wrong. Women can – and should – be able to have their proverbial cake and eat it too. But that will never come to fruition so long as short-sighted decisions remain on the books or, as I’ve said before, parental leave is not guaranteed.
An EEOC trial lawyer told the New York Times that even though the class action lawsuit was dismissed, discrimination cases brought by individuals “remain alive.” This is promising. Companies – both large and small – must be brought to task for ALL discrimination, especially in light of the fact that pregnancy discrimination has been on the rise.
In 2008, the National Partnership for Women and Families issued the findings of its report, “The Pregnancy Discrimination Act: Where We Stand 30 Years Later,” which revealed an alarming explosion of pregnancy discrimination charges in recent years. For example, in 2007 women filed 65 percent more complaints with the EEOC than they did in 1992.
Why the upsurge in registered complaints? Although no single cause can be identified for this increase, racial and ethnic minorities, as well as those employed in industries dominated by women, made up the majority of those filing complaints. More than half of EEOC claims made between fiscal year 1996 and fiscal year 2005 (53 percent) emanated from the service, retail, financial services, insurance and real estate industries, which employ roughly 70 percent of all women.
It will never cease to amaze me that a country so hell-bent on perpetuating motherhood does not provide the proper institutional support needed to allow families to flourish without having to decide between parenthood and career. I dream of the day when it’s not one or the other, but when both can co-exist without consequences.