Pregnant CEO Prompts Discussion About Workplace Discrimination, “Having It All”

The recent news that 37 year-old Marissa Mayer had been chosen as the new chief executive officer at Yahoo made history in several ways. She is one of only twenty women currently heading a Fortune 500 company, for example, and she is doing it in the predominantly-male tech sector. Mayer announced her pregnancy shortly after Yahoo announced her appointment as CEO, and that became the centerpiece of the media stories surrounding her. The discussion over whether women can “have it all,” meaning a successful career and a family, started up once again in the wake of Mayer’s announcement.

As pregnancy discrimination attorneys, we view the question differently. People may debate over whether or not women really can “have it all,” but laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on pregnancy help to ensure that women, and not their employers, make that decision.

Yahoo announced its selection of Mayer on Monday, July 16, 2012. Later that day, she announced that she is pregnant with a boy due October 7. She disclosed this to Yahoo’s board in late June, after receiving the offer for the CEO job on June 18. Mayer has reportedly said that she intends to take a brief maternity leave, but continue to work throughout. Mayer’s story is not an ordinary one of someone trying to balance work life and family life. She is now heading up a major internet corporation, and thanks to stock options she obtained during her time at Google, her personal wealth is reportedly enormous. Her job duties and obligations, and the pressures put upon her, may seem greater than in many other jobs, but her compensation is also most likely higher than in other jobs. Her legal right against any sort of discrimination based solely on her pregnancy, however, is exactly the same as that of anyone else.

Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits most employers from discriminating against employees and job seekers based on several categories, including gender. Pregnancy discrimination has generally been considered to be a form of gender discrimination, since it disproportionately affects women. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) amended Title VII to specifically include pregnancy discrimination as a prohibited type of gender or sex discrimination. An employer may not single out a pregnant employee or conditions related to pregnancy in assigning job duties or assessing ability to work. Decisions in hiring, firing, layoffs, promotions, and fringe benefits may not be based solely on pregnancy. The law also states that an employer must provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy-related conditions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigates claims of unlawful discrimination around the country.

In New York City, state- and municipal-level anti-discrimination laws also protect the rights of pregnant employees. The New York State Division of Human Rights and the New York City Commission on Human Rights investigate alleged discrimination in their areas of jurisdiction.

At Phillips & Associates, we help safeguard the rights of employees and job seekers under federal, state, and local anti-discrimination laws. Contact us today online or call (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Proposed Legislation Would Increase Protections Against Pregnancy Discrimination, New York Employment Attorney Blog, May 22, 2012
EEOC Reviews Pregnancy Discrimination and Discrimination Against Caregiving Workers, New York Employment Attorney Blog, April 27, 2012
Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace Sometimes Falls into a Murky Legal Area, New York Employment Attorney Blog, January 26, 2012

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