Tiffany Kantrowitz thought her job selling makeup for Procter & Gamble’s (P&G;) Dolce and Gabbana shop at Saks Fifth Avenue was her big break. She had always been interested in fashion and beauty, but when she moved to New York City after graduating college she was working a number of freelance jobs. Then the P&G; job came along. “It was a really big deal,” she said. “I thought it would be a big break for me, a company that would develop me and I could move up with.”
Then she got pregnant toward the end of 2014 and everything changed. In a lawsuit against P&G;, Kantrowitz alleges that the company refused to make small arrangements so she could keep working comfortably and then fired her in retaliation.
Kantrowitz alleges that signs that pregnancy would be a problem cropped up even before she got pregnant herself. The company enforces strict guidelines for employees’ appearances. A pregnant belly didn’t seem to fit. After remarking to her manager that she would like to have a baby at some point, she alleges he responded, “Pregnancy is not part of the uniform.”
Once pregnant, Kantrowitz started experiencing a number of side effects: extreme nausea, dizziness, severe fatigue, and chronic headaches. But she still came to work every day, determined to keep working. One day when she felt faint, she sat on a stool while attending to customers. Four days later, the complaint says, she got a written warning for it.
Pregnancy is not part of the uniform.
Kantrowitz decided to get proactive, and she asked the human resources representatives at her store for an accommodation so that she could keep working but sit down from time to time while she was pregnant, showing them doctor’s notes about the side effects she was experiencing. New York State law requires employers to offer pregnant workers reasonable accommodations, such as a stool to sit on, unless they can prove it would create undue hardship, a requirement that has been in effect in New York City for even longer. Meanwhile, federal laws such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Americans with Disabilities Act should protect pregnant women from discrimination.
But the lawsuit claims that the HR representatives refused, saying she had to meet the same standards as her coworkers who weren’t pregnant. Three weeks later, the company offered up its own solution, she says: taking breaks of five to ten minutes in one of two designated rooms, both on different floors than the one she worked on. That meant traveling to the rooms, which would eat into her break time and require some physical exertion. The breaks also took up time that she could be on the floor working toward her sales expectations, and the company allegedly made her deduct all of the break time from the 12 weeks of Family and Medical Leave Act leave she was saving for once her baby was born.
That made a difficult pregnancy worse. “It made my daily work life extremely stressful, to the point where I was concerned about my wellbeing and very concerned about the wellbeing of my unborn child,” she said.http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2015/10/14/3711825/pregnancy-discrimination-website/But Kantrowitz complied, even though she says she had to stop and lean on walls sometimes as she walked to the break rooms. It didn’t matter. In February of 2015, when Kantrowitz was about four months pregnant, P&G; fired her. The company says it was for having tester items in her personal belongings against company rules, although the lawsuit contends that it was common practice for employees to try out samples and that two other employees had done the same thing without being fired or disciplined. Instead, the complaint asserts that she was fired “in retaliation for [her] insistence on her right to a reasonable accommodation for her pregnancy.”
In response to a request for comment, a company spokesperson sent a statement saying, “Ms. Kantrowitz was terminated for cause following an internal investigation. P&G; has been, and continues to be widely respected for our commitment to diversity and inclusion and the many programs we have in place to support working mothers.”
Getting fired has taken a heavy toll on Kantrowitz. “It was one of the most stressful things I’ve ever been through in my life,” she said. The lawsuit says the incident caused “extreme emotional distress, mental anguish, and anxiety.”
This whole situation has derailed my career.
The financial consequences have also been severe. She and her husband had been saving up for their new child and relying on her taking some maternity leave.
“By no means did we think I would lose my job while I was pregnant and my income would be cut off so abruptly,” she said. “It had a huge effect on us and our finances. We’re still struggling because of that.” She went without maternity leave; while she received unemployment at first, that ran out shortly after she gave birth. They had to move to a less expensive apartment. She’s had to ask her family for financial help. They now make do without any disposable income, only able to budget for immediate needs like rent and groceries. “I had no income coming in at all for a little while, and that put a huge stress on us financially,” she said.
She’s still not sure what it means for her future, either. Since she had her baby, she’s been looking for another full-time job, but she needs more flexible hours now since she has a young child at home. “It’s hard to find a new job and somebody that will be flexible with me,” she said. “This whole situation has derailed my career.”
“I’m still kind of surprised that it happened to me,” she added. “It’s disappointing in our day and age that people would be unsympathetic to a pregnant woman in the workplace.”
But it’s unfortunately fairly common. An estimated quarter million women have their requests for pregnancy accommodations at work denied every year, and even more women don’t even ask for fear of retaliation. Yet two-thirds of first-time mothers work while pregnant. Only 11 other states have laws similar to New York’s, leaving women in the other 38 exposed to discrimination, and a federal law that would cover everyone has continually been stymied in Congress.
Kantrowitz is trying to stay optimistic. “I hope that I’ll be able to find full-time work and have my career get back on track, and hopefully one day put all this stuff behind me,” she said. But at the very least she wants her lawsuit to spread awareness of the issue. “I hope to put that out there and help women know that they have rights.”