University of Massachusetts Study Analyzes Pregnancy Discrimination Cases in the United States

Carly McCann

A new study by Carly McCann, a doctoral student in economics, and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, a professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Center for Employment Equity, analyzed all 26,656 pregnancy discrimination charges filed with the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state Fair Employment Practices Agencies between 2012 and 2016.

The most startling finding is that employers who were accused of discrimination often fire women employees the same day they learn they are pregnant.

The researchers found that the majority of pregnancy discrimination charges are filed in only a few industries – health care, retail, and accommodation and food services – these are all industries with high levels of female employment and many low-wage employees. Some 23 percent of pregnancy discrimination charges produce some monetary benefit for the charging party, and 11 percent result in a required workplace-level change. Nearly 9-out-of-10 pregnancy charges do not lead to any required change in employer behavior or managerial practices. Only 8 percent of pregnancy discrimination charges lead to both a monetary benefit for the charging party and some negotiated change in workplace managerial practices. Overall, charging parties who received monetary compensation for pregnancy charges were awarded $17,976 on average, with a median award of only $8,000.

As with other forms of employer discrimination, the majority of women who experience workplace pregnancy discrimination do not file a formal discrimination charge. While approximately 5,300 pregnancy discrimination charges are filed each year, the researchers say that number represents only about 2 percent of overall pregnancy discrimination incidents.

“Overall, our report reinforces that pregnancy discrimination remains a persistent problem for many women in their workplaces,” the researchers write. “Pregnancy discrimination is partially rooted in business practices and enduring cultural beliefs regarding women, and particularly pregnant women. Though there are legal structures in place intended to protect pregnant workers, it is important to consider whether these policies do enough.”

The full study, “Pregnancy Discrimination at Work: An Analysis of Pregnancy Discrimination Charges Filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,” may be downloaded here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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