Cynthia Terrana had worked at investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald for more than six years, yet she alleges it took 11 days for the firm to fire her after she told her manager she was pregnant.
In a lawsuit filed against the Cantor Fitzgerald this week, Terrana says that in February of 2013 she told her supervisor, Chief Operating Officer of Equities Ron Wexler, that she was pregnant. He allegedly responded, “That’s what I figured” and told her, “Don’t get too excited. Most women miscarry with their first child.” After that, the complaint says he stopped speaking to her and physically avoided her, “treating her as a pariah in the workplace.”
She says she was fired less than two weeks later despite receiving “glowing praise and reviews” from her bosses for the six years she worked there. Jared Kessler, the global head of equities who had been informed by Wexler of Terrana’s pregnancy, allegedly asked her coworkers about her performance on the day she was fired, asking one “What do you think of Cynthia? Do you think she’s doing a good job?,” the first inquiry that she had ever been aware of. While Terrana was told her position was eliminated, she believes the inquiry shows the firm had already decided to fire her and was looking for a justification. She was allegedly replaced with another employee who wasn’t pregnant. The complaint accuses the firm of “embrac[ing] outdated and inaccurate stereotypes about the ability of pregnant women to serve as competent and dedicated members of the workforce.”
The lawsuit also claims that Terrana suffered emotional and physical trauma and that she suffered a miscarriage 11 days after she was fired, losing her baby. Terrana and her lawyer refused requests for an interview, and Cantor Fitzgerald did not respond to a request for comment.
Firing workers because they become pregnant is prohibited by the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which bars employment discrimination based on pregnancy, as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) made clear to employers last year. But it’s still widespread. There were 3,400 pregnancy discrimination charges against employers filed with the EEOC last year and they rose 65 percent between 1992 and 2007, outpacing the increase in women joining the labor force.
Low-wage industries make up a big share of complaints, as a handful filed against retailers and fast food restaurants show. But white collar employers like investment banking aren’t immune. The finance and insurance industry was hit with 97 pregnancy discrimination complaints in 2013. A woman filed a lawsuit against Bloomberg TV last month that claimed she was discriminated against after she got pregnant and was fired while on maternity leave.
A review of decades of pregnancy discrimination lawsuits revealed that employers frequently vilify pregnant women or rely on unfair stereotypes, like the idea that they won’t return to work after they give birth, to justify firing them. Yet the majority of first-time mothers will be back at work six months later. Some employers, however, push women onto unpaid leave or just fire them when they ask for changes, like switching to light duty or more frequent bathroom breaks, so that they can keep working. An estimated quarter million women have those requests denied every year, while far more don’t even ask for fear of being denied or suffering repercussions.