Imagine that you, your wife, or your partner becomes pregnant. Perhaps you will change your habits—quit smoking, quit drinking, maybe even quit seafood. But will you quit your job? That is a tougher decision. What is important to remember is that it is your decision to make, and not your employer’s. Employers often fail to recognize that a woman has the right to choose to seek time off before, during, and after a pregnancy, and to be able to return to work.
In Hemmerlein v. Bloomberg, L.P., plaintiff Megan Hemmerlein, a political on-air-correspondent for Bloomberg Television (“BT”), alleged that BT violated the Washington D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act (“DCFMLA”) by terminating her employment after she requested DCFMLA leave. After Ms. Hemmerlein informed Bloomberg Media Group’s chief executive officer, Ellen Uchimiya, that she was pregnant, BT pulled her from stories, uninvited her from important networking events, and gave her the first negative performance review she had ever received at BT. A few days into Ms. Hemmerlein’s DCFMLA leave, BT terminated her as part of “ongoing layoffs” and informed her that she could look for another position within the company. However, the other two on-air-correspondents, who were male, were not terminated and, when Ms. Hemmerlein inquired to management regarding the availability of other positions, she did not receive a response. Ms. Hemmerlein claims that her DCFMLA leave was a “motivating factor” in BT’s termination decision.
The DCFMLA is modeled after the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), a federal law mandating that covered employers—all government agencies, public schools, and private employers with fifty or more employees that work within a seventy-five miles radius—give their employees unpaid leave for specific familial and medical reasons, including pregnancy and parental leave for both men and women. The FMLA is one of several acts that protect pregnant employees from adverse action by their employers. Employees are eligible for FMLA leave if they worked for their employer for at least twelve months (not necessarily continuously) and 1250 hours. After returning from FMLA leave, the employee “must be returned to the same job (or one nearly identical to it),” and applying for and/or taking FMLA leave cannot be the basis for employment decisions such as “hiring, promoting, or discipline.”
If BT’s decision to terminate Ms. Hemmerlein was based on her decision to take FMLA leave, then BT violated the law. Ms. Hemmerlein’s treatment is unjust and representative of what happens to women in many other industries: women are hesitant to take leave for fear of discrimination, and ultimately, termination. Galen Carey of the National Association of Evangelicals stated, “the protection that our society affords to mothers and their unborn children is uneven, and it falls far short of the ideal.” Forcing pregnant employees out of the labor force results in employees choosing between family and work, marginalizing a portion of the workforce.
Pregnancy is not a hindrance to working women. In 2011, the National Partnership for Women and Families reported that working pregnant women made up 62% of women who give birth. Clearly, stereotypes that pregnant women cannot contribute to the workforce are as false as they are archaic. Federal law, including the FMLA, prevents the insidious practice of employers acting on these stereotypes, and prevents the 75% of women who will become pregnant at some point in their careers from being forced out of their jobs.
If you believe your employer has discriminated against you based on a pregnancy or requesting FMLA leave, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.