Work-life balance & preventing pregnancy discrimination

SIX attorneys sued their employer, Morrison & Foerster, one of the largest law firms in the country, claiming that their employer discriminated against them by holding them back in their careers after they became pregnant. They sued on behalf of themselves and other female attorneys at the firm.

The employees allege that those who took maternity leave are denied opportunities for advancement and higher pay. The employer held back women who took maternity leave, regardless of their performance. The employer, thus, created a lasting stain on their careers, impeding not only their opportunities for advancement within the company, but also their marketability at other firms.

Attorneys who came back from their maternity leave were demoted, and left to work their way back. They are forced to prove their commitment to their work and meet the new, and impossibly high, standards that are set for them after they return from leave – which is never asked of their male counterparts who took the same parental leave.

The employer defended itself saying that their company actually expanded their parental leave and flexible work policies. It claimed that it has a proven track record of supporting employees as they return from maternity leave. However, the women countered that pregnant attorneys were treated differently. Women who take advantage of these programs are held back from career advancement and “set up to fail.”

During her performance review, one of the suing employees was told by a partner at the firm that she was not promoted “because she had become a mother.” The complaint allege that when female attorneys become mothers, the employer demands they prove their commitment by working more hours. However, when they seek additional work, they are denied assignments because of stereotype-driven perceptions that they lack commitment to their jobs.

The lawsuit is currently pending before the courts.

Pregnancy discrimination is defined as discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. Prohibited conduct includes firing, demoting, harassing, retaliating, refusing health benefits, denying promotion, denying medical leave, and treating a pregnant employee differently. Pregnancy (and all its related medical conditions such as severe morning sickness, doctor-ordered bed rest, childbirth, recovery from childbirth) is considered a temporary disability. The employer must therefore give pregnant employees the same treatment and benefits that it gives those with other temporary disabilities.

Employers must hold open a job for a pregnancy-related absence the same length of time jobs are held open for employees on sick or disability leave. Any leave, seniority, or reinstatement rights other workers get from the employer when they cannot work for health reasons should be available to pregnant women and new mothers who are temporarily physically disabled.

Discriminated pregnant employees may recover the following remedies: back pay, hiring, promotion, reinstatement, front pay, compensatory damages, including emotional pain and suffering, punitive damages, and other applicable remedies. Aggrieved employees may also recover attorneys’ fees, expert witness fees, and court costs.

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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit or our Facebook page Joe Sayas Law. [C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. is an experienced trial attorney who has successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is the recipient of PABA’s Community Champion Award for 2016.]

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