Tabitha Handy says she assured her employer at Waffle House that she could continue doing her job after she found out she was pregnant in September, but then she was allegedly fired over concerns about whether she could keep doing it. Now, she’s suing them.
When she first told her direct manager, according to the lawsuit, he replied that he didn’t know of any other pregnant workers at Waffle House and told her to tell upper management about it. Then she says a person in upper management responded to the news by saying, “You’re pregnant again? Don’t you already have three kids?”
Handy says she assured the manager that her pregnancy wouldn’t get in the way of her work, but was told anyway that he thought she couldn’t handle the job anymore because she would “move too slow.”
She says she wasn’t fired right away. Instead, even though the lawsuit says she had received only positive work reviews, someone was brought in to evaluate her and eventually fired her, telling her, “We don’t need you here at Waffle House anymore.” Waffle House did not return a request for comment.
Handy isn’t alone in claiming that an employer fired her for simply becoming pregnant. One said her employer had a “no pregnancy in the workplace” policy. A woman said she was fired after being told to “stay home and take care of [her] pregnancy.” Another said she was fired less than two weeks after she informed her employer of her pregnancy; another said it took a matter of hours.
Lawsuits over these kinds of incidents have risen sharply over the past two decades, outpacing women’s influx into the labor force. And a review of the successful challenges have found that employers frequently try to vilify employees once they become pregnant in order to justify firing them. One woman, for example, has sued after she says she was fired for a missing coupon shortly after she revealed her pregnancy.
Women face other barriers at work when they become pregnant. Many say they need small changes like a switch to responsibilities that don’t include heavy lifting, more frequent bathroom breaks, or a stool to sit on. Yet an estimated quarter million are denied their requests for these accommodations every year, while an even larger number are too afraid to ask. Without them, women risk being fired, pushed onto unpaid leave, or even miscarrying.
Current labor laws should in theory protect workers against being fired just for becoming pregnant, although the rate of lawsuits over these incidences make it clear it’s a frequent problem. Federal lawmakers recently introduced a bill that would take an extra step by requiring employers to give pregnant employees the accommodations they need to stay on the job.