Last week, Megan Hemmerlein, a former Bloomberg TV correspondent, filed a lawsuit against the company claiming it discriminated against her for being pregnant and eventually fired her for taking leave.
The lawsuit claims Bloomberg discriminated against Hemmerlein after it found out she was pregnant by assigning more stories to a different female employee with no children, preventing her from covering particular stories, giving her lower performance reviews, and firing her just as she went on maternity leave. The company declined to comment.
Hemmerlein told her manager, Ellen Uchimiya, and the human resources department that she was pregnant in early December of 2013 and that she would be due on August 11 of the next year. Then while Hemmerlein was on vacation in February of 2014, Uchimiya allegedly told the newsroom that Yang Yang, a more junior female producer who is unmarried and doesn’t have children, would be doing more on-air reporting. Yang was given more and more of Hemmerlein’s work despite having no prior experience as an on-air correspondent.
Then the company allegedly began denying Hemmerlein stories because of her pregnancy. In March, after she told Uchimiya she was interested in helping Bloomberg cover the midterms, Uchimiya allegedly told her, “Don’t bother with midterms. You are not going to want to leave your baby.” In May, she told a producer she was interested in reporting on medical marijuana, but the producer told her it would look “weird” to have a pregnant reporter on the story. A male corespondent was assigned to it instead.
Hemmerlein got “consistently positive” performance reviews between 2012 and 2013, according to the lawsuit. But she alleges that her performance review in July of 2014 was “more negative than her evaluations in previous years” and there was no written explanation of her rating as there was in past years.
The final straw came just before her pregnancy. The lawsuit says that she told Uchimiya and HR that she would begin maternity leave on Aug. 7. The HR representative then told her on Aug. 7 that she would be terminated at the end of her maternity leave as part of ongoing layoffs. She was told it wasn’t because of her performance but because the site’s political coverage was shifting to New York, so her position was eliminated. But her stories have since covered by correspondents based out of the D.C. office. The lawsuit claims that her maternity leave, instead, “was a motivating factor in Bloomberg’s adverse actions.”
Hemmerlein was the only correspondent fired in the Washington, D.C. office. The lawsuit also says that of the eight employees who were laid off, seven were women. Neither of its two on-air male correspondents were fired, one of whom had less experience than Hemmerlein.
The lawsuit claims that Bloomberg violated the D.C. Human Rights Act and its Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA requires companies to give employees who have been with them for more than a year 12 weeks of unpaid leave and to guarantee their jobs when they return.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 also prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. But pregnant employees still face rampant bias at work. Women have sued their employers for firing them after learning they were pregnant or while they were on maternity leave. One lawsuit claims a woman was fired on her first day just hours after disclosing her pregnancy. A review of decades of lawsuits shows that employers frequently vilify pregnant workers to justify firing them or rely on stereotypes, such as the assumption that they won’t come back to work after leave. But 80 percent work through their last month of pregnancy and nearly 60 percent return to work within six months of giving birth.
Pregnant employees also report being forced onto unpaid leave or made to keep doing work that leads to miscarriages when they asked for simple accommodations to remain safely on the job. An estimated quarter million women are denied these requests — such as switching to light duty, sitting on a stool, or taking more frequent bathroom breaks — every year, while even more say they are too afraid to ask.
To beef up protections for pregnant workers, states have passed Pregnant Workers Fairness Acts. A similar bill that would cover everyone has been introduced multiple times in Congress but hasn’t moved forward.