The New York Times reported this week that discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers is so pervasive that even organizations that define themselves as champions of women are struggling with the problem, and that includes Planned Parenthood, which has been accused of sidelining, ousting or otherwise handicapping pregnant employees.
In interviews and legal documents, women at Planned Parenthood and other organizations with a feminist bent described discrimination that violated federal or state laws — managers considering pregnancy in hiring decisions, for example, or denying rest breaks recommended by a doctor.
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.
Some of those employers saw accommodating expecting mothers as expensive and inconvenient. Others were unsympathetic to workers seeking special treatment.
At Avon, which calls itself “the company for women,” two employees in a cosmetics-testing lab have sued for being forced to handle toxic chemicals while pregnant. A marketing executive, Caroline Ruiz, also said she was fired four days after announcing her pregnancy.
At Mehri & Skalet, a progressive law firm suing Walmart for pregnancy discrimination, three lawyers have accused a founding partner, Cyrus Mehri, of mistreatment. Employee Heidi Burakiewicz said Mr. Mehri pressured her to return early from maternity leave. Another employee, Sandi Farrell was told to participate in a performance review during her leave, and when she asked to postpone it she was fired.
And at Planned Parenthood, the country’s leading provider of reproductive services, managers in some locations declined to hire pregnant job candidates, refused requests by expecting mothers to take breaks and in some cases pushed them out of their jobs after they gave birth, according to current and former employees in California, Texas, North Carolina and New York.
Most Planned Parenthood offices do not provide paid maternity leave, though many let new mothers take partially paid disability leave.
“I believe we must do better than we are now,” Leana Wen, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “It’s our obligation to do better, for our staff, for their families and for our patients.”
While Planned Parenthood’s clinics and regional offices brought in about $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2016 — half from private donations and half from the government, to reimburse treatment provided to Medicaid patients — conservative lawmakers routinely threaten to kill its taxpayer funding. With their finances precarious, the clinics pay modest salaries to the employees who provide health care — abortions, cancer screenings, prenatal care, disease testing — to 2.4 million mostly low-income patients every year.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America has its headquarters in Manhattan. The clinics that serve women are run by 55 regional affiliates with their own chief executives and human resources policies. They receive some money and support from headquarters.
Tight budgets sometimes created punishing workplace conditions, employees said. A dozen lawsuits filed against Planned Parenthood clinics in federal and state courts since 2013 accused managers of denying workers rest periods, lunch breaks or overtime pay, or retaliating against them for taking medical leave.
Managers have discriminated against pregnant women and new mothers, according to interviews with the current and former Planned Parenthood employees and with organizers from the Office and Professional Employees International Union, which represents some Planned Parenthood workers.
In Miami, one current and two former employees said that women at a Planned Parenthood office were scared to tell managers they were pregnant. One of them said that, in conversations with supervisors, colleagues would often volunteer that they were not planning on having children or were gay or single.
“It was looked down upon for you to get pregnant,” said Carolina Delgado, who worked in the Miami office until 2012. “I don’t think that any supervisor had to literally say it for us to feel it.”
A former hiring manager at a Planned Parenthood in California said that when internal promotions came up, supervisors openly debated whether candidates were likely to get pregnant in the near future and preferred those who were not. They declined to hire one pregnant woman and to promote one new mother, the employee said. (Under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, it is illegal to consider whether a job candidate is or will become pregnant.)
The former manager said her colleagues felt they couldn’t afford to promote someone only to lose them for several weeks.
Financial pressures also explain why 49 of Planned Parenthood’s 55 regional offices — which each manage a set of local clinics — do not provide paid maternity leave. Employees in about 20 of those regions can use short-term disability to earn a portion of their salaries while on leave. The New York headquarters provides six weeks of paid parental leave.
Planned Parenthood’s policies, though, can make it hard for employees to scrape by after giving birth.
In August, Marissa Hamilton, an employee at Planned Parenthood in Colorado, gave birth to a baby boy. He was eight weeks premature, weighed less than four pounds and spent weeks in neonatal intensive care. The office doesn’t provide paid maternity leave.