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Planned Parenthood accused of discriminating against pregnant employees

MOTHER AND CHILD
By Anneka | Shutterstock
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Newspaper documents several employees' difficulties getting fair treatment from nation's largest abortion provider.

Planned Parenthood and several businesses that tout their special concern for women have been found to practice discrimination against their own employees who get pregnant, according to a New York Times investigation.

“Discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers remains widespread in the American workplace. It is so pervasive that even organizations that define themselves as champions of women are struggling with the problem,” the Times said. “That includes Planned Parenthood, which has been accused of sidelining, ousting or otherwise handicapping pregnant employees, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees.

The report cited interviews and legal documents that show women at Planned Parenthood—the nation’s leading provider of abortion—and “other organizations with a feminist bent” face discrimination in violation of federal or state laws. That includes managers considering pregnancy in hiring decisions, denying rest breaks recommended by a doctor, and requiring women who were recuperating after a difficult delivery to return to work early.

Ta’Lisa Hairston, for example, a medical assistant at Planned Parenthood in White Plains, New York, told human resources that her high blood pressure was threatening her pregnancy. “She sent the department multiple notes from her nurse recommending that she take frequent breaks,” the Times reported. “Managers ignored the notes. They rarely gave her time to rest or to take a lunch break, Ms. Hairston said.”

When Ms. Hairston asked for regular breaks, including 30 minutes for lunch, her supervisors brushed her off. Ms. Hairston said she sent multiple notes from her nurse at Full Circle Women’s Health to the regional office’s human resources department, stating that the extra breaks were medically necessary. No one responded, and nothing changed, according to Ms. Hairston and the former human resources manager.

Ms. Hairston’s hands and feet swelled; the clinic’s plastic gloves no longer fit. Her blood pressure got so high that her doctor put her on bed rest when she was seven months pregnant.

She returned to work on strict orders to not work more than six hours a day and to take regular breaks. One day in March, she worked a much longer shift. She soon became so sick that her doctor told her to go back on bed rest. A few days later, on March 23, she went to the hospital. Doctors performed an emergency C-section. She was 34 weeks pregnant.

When she had been on maternity leave for eight of the 12 weeks guaranteed by the Family and Medical Leave Act, Planned Parenthood’s human resources department called her multiple times and urged her to return to work early, Ms. Hairston said. She emailed the department and said she felt “discriminated against.” She resigned in June.

Managers in other Planned Parenthood clinics “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,” the report said.

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.

Leana Wen, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the organization was investigating the allegations of pregnancy discrimination.

“I believe we must do better than we are now,” Wen said in a statement. “It’s our obligation to do better, for our staff, for their families and for our patients.”

Although an official overseeing the clinic where Hairston worked denied her claims, Tracy Webber, the former director of clinical services in White Plains, sued Planned Parenthood for pregnancy discrimination in 2009, saying she had been fired four weeks after giving birth. Planned Parenthood settled for undisclosed terms. In addition:

A woman who worked at Planned Parenthood’s New Rochelle, N.Y., clinic and who declined to be named said in an interview that, when she got pregnant last year, managers ignored her doctor’s note recommending frequent breaks. Her manager asked her to delay her maternity leave and, after she gave birth, pressed her to return early.

A medical assistant at the same clinic was fired in May 2018, the day she returned from maternity leave, according to a former human resources manager who oversaw the clinic. Jonas Urba, the woman’s lawyer, said she reached a confidential resolution with Planned Parenthood.

The former human resources manager, who requested anonymity, said that executives assumed that when a pregnant worker brought in a doctor’s note, it was an excuse to work less. People who took sick days were perceived as lacking commitment.

Other companies cited in the report include Natera, which sells genetic tests for pregnant women; Avon, the cosmetics company, which calls itself “the company for women,” and Mehri & Skalet, a progressive law firm which is suing Walmart for, of all things, pregnancy discrimination.

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