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Planned Parenthood, Other Feminist Organizations Accused Of Discrimination Against Pregnant Workers

By  Ashe Schow

The very organizations that claim to champion women and rail against others for alleged discrimination are participating in that very same discrimination, according to a report from The New York Times.

Organizations — Planned Parenthood in particular — are accused of violating state and/or federal laws against discriminating against pregnant women in the workplace. Managers allegedly consider pregnancy while hiring and deny doctor-recommended breaks for pregnant women.

“In other cases, the bias was more subtle. Many women said they were afraid to announce a pregnancy at work, sensing they would be seen as abandoning their colleagues,” the Times reported. “Some of those employers saw accommodating expecting mothers as expensive and inconvenient. Others were unsympathetic to workers seeking special treatment.”

Ta’Lisa Hairston, a medical assistant at Planned Parenthood, informed her human-resources department that she needed frequent breaks while she was pregnant due to her high blood pressure. Despite multiple notes from her nurse, Hairston said, her managers would not allow her the necessary breaks or even a lunch break.

“I had to hold back tears talking to pregnant women, telling them to take care of their pregnancies when I couldn’t take care of mine,” she told the Times. “It made me jealous.”

Other current and former Planned Parenthood employees told the Times they were fired after giving birth.

The Times reported that despite Planned Parenthood positioning itself as a center for pregnancy (though it is the country’s largest abortion provider), most locations do not provide maternity leave for their employees. Some allow women to take partially paid disability leave in its place.

“I believe we must do better than we are now,” Leana Wen, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told the Times. “It’s our obligation to do better, for our staff, for their families and for our patients.”

She added that the organization is investigating claims of discrimination and reviewing the cost of providing paid maternity leave to its 12,000 employees across the country.

Melissa Blain Johnson and Judit Rigo, two former employees of genetic testing seller Natera, said they were demoted after they went on maternity leave. Johnson is now suing. Natera said Johnson’s employment “was not influenced inappropriately by her pregnancy or subsequent maternity leave” and neither was Rigo’s.

Rigo told the Times she trained a junior employee to fill in for her while on maternity leave and was told weeks after she gave birth that she would then be reporting to that employee.

Caroline Ruiz, a marketing executive at cosmetics brand Avon, said she was fired four days after she announced she was pregnant. Two other employees at the company have sued, claiming they were forced to handle toxic chemicals during their pregnancies. Avon denied all these claims to the Times.

Female lawyers at Mehri & Skalet, a progressive law firm ironically suing Walmart for alleged pregnancy discrimination, claim the firm’s founding partner discriminated against them for their pregnancies.

“Heidi Burakiewicz said Mr. [Cyrus] Mehri pressured her to return early from maternity leave. Sandi Farrell was told to participate in a performance review during her leave, and when she asked to postpone it she was fired. Taryn Wilgus Null said Mr. Mehri questioned her child care arrangements in a performance review after she returned from leave,” the Times reported.

Mehri denied all the claims, calling Burakiewicz’s claim “a lie.” He also told the Times that Farrell had performance issues and Null misinterpreted what he said.

Read the full report from the Times here.

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