Mekhala Sofsky recently filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court claiming that her former employer the Doughnut Plant twice demoted her after learning of her pregnancy and then fired her while she was on maternity leave.
Sofsky told her supervisors she was pregnant in July of 2012, after which she claims one told her he didn’t think she would return to work after giving birth and that she “should really stay home with her baby,” according to the lawsuit. A month later she told her supervisors she couldn’t keep working 40 hours a week due to morning sickness. The same month, the lawsuit alleges that she was demoted from her salaried position as personnel manager overseeing two locations to an hourly one managing just one store.
“Up until I told them [that I was pregnant] I had been doing really well,” she said. “No complaints, no issues whatsoever and then basically after I told them it started going south.” The lawsuits says her bosses explained the demotion was because they weren’t satisfied with her performance.
In December of that year, she says she was demoted a second time from a manager to a shift supervisor, less than two weeks before she was to begin her maternity leave. She says her pay was also cut from a $50,000 annual salary to $14 an hour while her bonus was reduced and her vacation and sick time were eliminated.
While she was on maternity leave and days after her attorney sent a letter to Doughnut Plant, the lawsuit says she was fired.
Doughnut Plant denies the allegations. In a statement to DNAinfo, which first reported on the lawsuit, the company said, “Doughnut Plant is a fair and flexible employer with a strong track record of family friendly policies,” adding, “We proudly embrace diversity, adhere to both the spirit and the letter of the law with regard to pregnant women, and offer paid maternity and paternity leave.” The company also told Eater that she was never fired, but instead didn’t return from her maternity leave, although it acknowledged the demotions while saying they were “for real reasons, not because she was pregnant.”
While the facts of Sofsky’s case will have to be decided in court, she is far from the first person to complain of mistreatment over pregnancy. One woman is suing a nursing home where she says she was fired hours after telling her supervisor of her pregnancy. The Justice Department recently announced a lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education for firing pregnant teachers. A review of case histories found that employers frequently vilify pregnant workers and rely on stereotypes, such as the idea that they won’t come back to work after they give birth, to justify firing them. But the facts show that these stereotypes are wrong, as 80 percent of first-time mothers work into their last month of pregnancy and nearly 60 percent go back to work within six months of giving birth.
There have also been many complaints from women who say they have lost their babies, suffered injuries and illnesses, or had to go on unpaid leave because their employers wouldn’t give them accommodations on the job. A woman is suing her employer Pier 1 for forcing her onto unpaid leave rather than giving her light duty, as her doctor required, so that she could continue working. Another is suing a grocery store after losing her baby because she was denied light duty. Multiple women have accused Walmart of refusing to make changes so they can keep working and have healthy pregnancies. An estimated quarter million women are denied their requests for accommodations in order to stay on the job during their pregnancies.
One such case has reached the Supreme Court: it will soon decide whether the United Parcel Service discriminated against Peggy Young when it refused to give her light duty during her pregnancy, despite giving accommodations to workers with injuries, disabilities, or suspended driver’s licenses.
Advocates claim that all of this mistreatment of pregnant workers violates existing law, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently released new guidance reminding employers of that same message. But given that the behavior continues, some states have passed versions of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which require employers to give pregnant workers accommodations unless there is a justifiable business reason as to why they can’t. A federal version of the law has been introduced multiple times in Congress but hasn’t gone anywhere.