$48.9 Million Babies

The Washington Post and other newspapers reported yesterday that Verizon settled its landmark 2002 class-action pregnancy bias suit for $48.9 million -- the second-largest pregnancy discrimination settlement ever. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission calculated that Verizon predecessors Nynex and Bell Atlantic illegally denied 12,326 current and former female employees pension and other benefits when pregnant or on maternity leave from July 1965 through December 1983, violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963, all of which protect women's equal rights in the workplace.

Although lawsuits are expensive, unpleasant undertakings for all involved, this settlement -- and the future legal protection it suggests -- are good news for the 64 million working moms in this country, 51% of whom return to work within four months of giving birth. Before laws were enacted protecting working women, we were required or coerced into resigning from jobs when a pregnancy became visible. More recently, People Magazine (June 12 article "The Good News: You're Pregnant; The Bad News: You're Fired!") ran a roundup of current -- and legal -- pregnancy discrimination by religious institutions, including against Kelly Romenesko, a Catholic schoolteacher, who was fired when she turned to IVF to have children; and Michelle McCusker, who was dismissed from New York City's St. Rose of Lima School when she revealed she was unmarried and pregnant.

I once took a managerial job in a sales department where female reps were routinely denied bonuses if the payout date fell during their maternity leaves -- regardless of when they had earned the bonus. One direct report said she had returned to work for a single day, almost immediately after her Caesarean delivery, to collect a bonus she'd worked for nearly a year to earn. The budget director was an older, gruff curmudgeon, and female sales reps were afraid they'd lose their jobs if they complained to him, their bosses or others at the company.

Perhaps because I was new to the department, not pregnant myself, and in management instead of sales, I had nothing to lose. I talked to my boss and the head of human resources, neither of whom knew of the practice. But they understood immediately that it was illegal, unfair and exposed the company to litigation. The policy was reversed immediately, starting with the mom who'd just had the Caesarean. Her baby is now grown and that bias is ancient history. Shining a spotlight on discrimination, especially when that the glare includes a $48.9 million payout, makes the workplace more fair and equitable for all.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  June 7, 2006; 7:45 AM ET  | Category:  Moms in the News , Workplaces
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All we can do today is agree. Here, here.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 7, 2006 8:42 AM

Good for you for standing up for people who could not stand up for themselves! So many times people stand idly by and watch other people suffer because they either don't want to deal with getting involved emotionally or worry about how it will affect them and their career. I could not live with myself if I saw something like that happening to someone I worked with and many times I have have gone to bat for people and a few times I've lost big time. I may not be making as much money as I would have been if I kept my mouth shut, but my integrity is priceless. Again, good for you!

Posted by: tlawrenceva | June 7, 2006 9:02 AM

I wish I had you, Leslie, to speak up for me when I was fired 2 months after coming back from my second maternity leave. This was a few years ago. The way it was handled and the lame excuse I was given made it obvious that I was fired because my boss believed that a woman with two children should not be in the workforce. Yes, these things do happen today. I had a fairly high level position in one of the government branches and after consulting with an attorney I chose to "preserve my reputation" and not to sue. I also had an example of a woman who did file a complaint (her discrimination was even more obvious if you can believe it) and lost. I know that the decision was made with three men and one woman in the room. All the men had families and the woman had grown children. Nobody had pointed out to the person doing the firing that what he wanted to do was illegal. I am still very bitter about it and have thought many times about going public but always decide against it for fear of professional retribution.

Posted by: washington dc | June 7, 2006 9:18 AM

In a previous position, as a manager, I found it easier to stick up for others than for myself. I was glad to do it and ultimately (much later) it benefited me as well.

Posted by: Rockville Mom | June 7, 2006 9:21 AM

Yes, yes, yes, PLEASE speak up when you see these things going on! As the saying goes, the easiest way for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

This includes challenging pay inequity. Much as I enjoy Amy Joyce's columns, whenever the issue comes up in her online chats of "I found out what X is making and we have the same position and it's much more than I make," she tends to stick to the line of "It doesn't affect you, doesn't have anything to do with you, just keep quiet and do well in your own work." Rubbish! The policies many workplaces implemented forbidding employees to discuss their pay among themselves was designed, in many cases, to keep women from finding out they were earning less than men. And in most cases these policies will not hold up in court anyway. (According to my mom, a labor & employment lawyer.)

Posted by: No Kids But On the Side of Justice | June 7, 2006 9:31 AM

When I returned to work after having my first child I returned part-time. As a matter of switching my status my employer zero-ed out my remaining sick leave. As a part-time employee I didn't earn any, so they had no place to 'keep' it.

For some reason unknown to me someone at the EEOC was interviewing women who had returned from maternity leave. I was happy to have been able to switch to part-time, but I mentioned about the sick leave. That leave was reinstated immediately.

I don't know that it was deliberate discrimination, but it doesn't hurt to pipe up if you aren't happy. Sometimes it works!

Posted by: RoseG | June 7, 2006 9:37 AM

I agree with Rockville Mom -- it is easier for others to accept when women stick up for others vs, sticking up for ourselves. Both are critical. But somehow, I think corporate cultures find it easier to swallow when you are "objective" and advocating for other women's rights vs. being "self interested." And you are right -- we ALL benefit when we stand up for others. When in doubt, remember that there are laws on our side, for good reason, and that the laws become useless if we don't utilize them.

And for those of you who have been victims of discrimination, I am angry on your behalf. We have a long way to go before this kind of prejudice goes away.

Posted by: Leslie | June 7, 2006 9:41 AM

I work at, funny enough, a child advocacy organization. When I returned from my maternity leave, my supervisor became much more restrictive about my working at home (It is common practice in my organization), and she started requiring me to stay half an hour after our official closing time. She also regularly made comments verbally and in writing about "mommy mush brain." I took my complaints to our HR office, which was completely useless. Then I took the complaints to our EEO office. They advised me to keep everything in writing, and they gave me several options to resolve my complaints. Things are better now, but I am looking for a new job because I am disgusted with how I was treated. My supervisor, a woman, has young children, so I don't know what her problem is.

Posted by: new mom | June 7, 2006 10:23 AM

I have a question I would like to ask of everyone. I currently have pretty bad job with a very hostile work environment and am looking for a new job. I also found out I am pregnant with my first child. Would you tell a potential employer about a pregnancy (it is still early)in an interview or after an offer has been given? My husband says not to say anything until I am asked. But given his experience with pregnancy, I am asking you.

Posted by: first one on the way | June 7, 2006 10:39 AM

To "first one on the way:" you are under no obligation to tell a potential employer, but I believe telling them would be a good way to weed out employers who aren't family-friendly. If someone discriminates against you because you are pregnant, you don't want to work there. (Unless, of course, you will have the energy to stand up for your rights, which I didn't in my daughter's first year.) I would also look for organizations/companies that are large enough to have to honor the Family Medical Leave act, or you could get fired for trying to take time off after you child is born.

Posted by: Chrissy | June 7, 2006 10:46 AM

First One On The Way, I wouldn't say anything about it until the second or third interview. At that point, you can let them know and say something like, "I plan on coming back two days a week after two months, and full-time after three months of leave; in the meantime I would coordinate fully with other staff to make sure that my responsibilities were covered during my absense," or whatever. There's really no point in mentioning it in the first interview, which should be aimed more at you deciding whether you're interested in the job in the first place and the company deciding whether your skill set is a good match. You can bring it up during subsequent meetings or phone calls.

Posted by: Lizzie | June 7, 2006 10:53 AM

To first one on the way: Amy Joyce, one of the Post's career columnists, has commented on this topic a number of times in her web chat, so you may want to look at the archive of those chats to see what she has to say.

If I recall correctly (which is by means guaranteed), her advice was to wait until an offer has been given. At that point, the organization has demonstrated that it is interested in you and is more likely to work w/ you on developing an arrangement that will work for you and the organization. Once organizations offer a job, they generally are keen to have their offers accepted. Recruiting and interviewing take a lot of time, effort and, sometimes money; no one wants to go through that process again unless it's absolutely necessary.

It's also a good idea to check organizational rules as to when insurance and leave procedures kick in. In some organizations, an employee must have been on board for a year before the expenses of pregnancy will be covered by the company's health insurance plan. Similar restrictions may apply to requests for maternity leave.

Posted by: THS | June 7, 2006 10:58 AM

I took my first post-college job with a small family-owned publishing company in Virginia in 1993 (I was 28 years old). The woman who co-owned the company asked me, "You're not going to have babies any time soon, are you?" (She was a mother herself).

I answered that I had no such plans. I found this to be offensive, and later learned it was illegal. However, in 1993, we were knee-deep in a recession and I was new to the WDC area, so I didn't argue. I put in 15 months with this company, then moved to a bigger publishing firm. In 1996, I had my child, and this company was very supportive. I took six months unpaid maternity leave, then negotiated to come back part time for two years. I considered myself very fortunate to have worked for such a family-friendly employer. I am now in a family friendly environment, and this was a factor in choosing my current job.

Posted by: single western mom | June 7, 2006 11:24 AM

To First One on the Way -- Some companies require that you work for them for at least 12 months before you qualify for certain components of maternity leave. Make sure you check out their policies before you accept a new job.

Posted by: Leslie | June 7, 2006 11:28 AM

BRAVO, Lesie! I regularly read your blog but would normally never post. This time, I could not help myself. Good for you for sticking your neck out for others. You are quite fortunate that it worked out so well. I have worked for the Federal Government, as an attorney in an independent agency, for 9 years. I had a fairly high-profile job that I loved when I became pregnant with my second child, three years ago. My Director at the time, a political appointee, regularly made nasty comments whenever I took time off to do anything with my first child, even to take him to the doctor. Mind you, I rarely took time off for him as we had a full-time nanny at home. It was difficult and made me sad, but I managed because my job was important to me. When I told her that I was expecting my second child she said, "Well, we will have to discuss what this means for your job." Aghast, I told her that it meant nothing in regards to my job, that I would continue to perform as I always had. Well, that was the final straw and I ended up filing a work place diversity complaint against her, something I would never have imagined myself doing. It was a tough decision but I knew I had to do it. As an attoney I also knew that I had a strong case. All that happened, even though they found in my favor, was that she received a sharp "set-down" by the agency head and was told she could not retaliate against me. As a political appointee, the agency head could have "fired" her but, chose not to. Toward the end of my pregnancy, I went into pre-term labor and was out of the office for a total 6 months maternity leave, much of that unpaid. When I returned to work, my director had human resources call me. I was told that I was no longer needed in that position as the attorney (a single guy) who had been doing my job since I was on leave could continue doing it (in addition to his other work). This was outside of the 3 month retaliation "limit" so I had no official recourse. I complained to the head of the agency, who I knew, and he did nothing. They let her push me out even though they acknowledged that they thought it was wrong. They told me that I would be miserable working for her anyway, after all that had occurred. I had no trouble finding another job in the agency because I had a very good reputation but I lost the job I loved. When all of this occurred, I was also the only parent of young children in that particular office. It was blatant discrimination against a mother/parent. This happened in the Federal Government only three years ago! So, as far as we think we have come, we haven't come that far. The U.S. values children and parenthood much, much less than most "advanced" Western nations. Let us not forget that all of these Politicians who cry "family values" mean their own narrow views and definitions only - and that rarely includes working moms.

Posted by: Washington, DC | June 7, 2006 11:44 AM

I too wish that I had had the guts to stand up to my former employer during my pregnancy. At the time, I had no idea this discrimination was so common. The religious organization that I worked for advertised my position (in the Post) when I was 5 months pregnant without my knowledge. After I found it and confronted them, I was told that they were hiring someone (a "new" position) to cover my work while I was on maternity leave. There was never a doubt in my mind that my boss wanted to replace me. The woman that was hired had to quit a few weeks after my child was born because her son had been in a terrible accident. She needed to take time off to nurse him to back to health and in their eyes she hadn't earned the time off yet. I've since found a great part-time job and am loving motherhood.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 7, 2006 11:45 AM

I'm a full-time working mom, so am sympathetic to the postings about needing flexibility, etc. But a nagging issue for me is always whether or not the flexibility and understanding we ask of our employers also extends to those women who must work in jobs at the lower end of the economic scale. E.g., if you have a working mom clean your house, or as a child care provider, would you give her the same kind of considerations for extended periods of time? (Unfortunately, I know too many examples of upper middle income mothers getting totally annoyed when their day care provider, god forbid, gets ill or has a family emergency.) If your personal answer is no (for whatever reason), then it seems that the same kind of requests cannot reasonably be expected from your employer. It's a tough nut to crack, but the rights of the individual extend to everyone, right?

Posted by: confused | June 7, 2006 11:48 AM

To First one on the way,

I agree with others who have said you shouldn't mention until later in the process - in the early stages I would focus on demonstrating why you would be an excellent employee, that you are a hard and committed worker, and making them want you. Then, when you do bring it up, make sure it is in the context of how you will be coming back - my sense is that employers are much more willing to work with you on these issues when they have a sense of your value and commitment to them.

And to Confused, I think you pose an excellent question, and make a very good point. We all have to be willing to provide the same treatment to others that we ask for ourselves, otherwise we are simply perpetuating the inequity.

Posted by: Megan | June 7, 2006 12:03 PM

to another washington dc: did you see my post at 9:18 am? Your story is my story. I agree with everything you wrote, especially about the politicians, since I had experience that hypocrisy first hand and can name at least three othre women who have as well. I am convinced that your political appointee director had something against mothers. It's always personal at the end. Funny thing, when a decision was made to fire me (2 months after I returned) one of the senior staffers in the room was an attorney who surely knew that it was illegal so the staffers suggested to keep me on for another 4 months so technically I was fired 6 months after coming back from the maternity leave. It was presented to me later like "we fought for you".

Posted by: washington, dc | June 7, 2006 12:35 PM

Hi there, No Kids. I just had to clarify what you said I've said in the past when it comes to salaries. Never have I told someone to ignore the fact someone else in the same position is making more than they are. I wrote an entire column about what to do when you discover such things.
Also, on your other point, just so everyone knows: It's a violation of the National Labor Relations Act to prohibit employees from discussing salary unless there is a substantial business reason to prohibit it. And very rarely is there a substantial reason.
I do, however, gladly use the "if it doesn't affect you" line when people ask me what to do when they notice their co-worker took an hour and a half lunch, came into work 15 minutes later than everyone else, or took two pieces of birthday cake from the office party.

Posted by: Amy Joyce | June 7, 2006 1:13 PM

I'm in the same position as a few others in my workplace. The thing about salery differences is that a lot of people (men and women) take what they are offered and do not negotiate. Which means several people in the same position might be making more (or less) than you are. If all of the women (or parents) are making 10K less, then its a pattern, but sometimes it just comes down to what you've asked for.

In my office the saleries vary for everyone in the same position - some men are lower, some women are. Some childless are lower, some parents are. Its not discrimination, its what they fought for when they were hired. however, we have one parent (not the only parent by far) who has decided that her lower salery is because she has kids. This just simply isn't the case - another person who has a child (special needs, so she's out a lot) makes more because she NEGOTIATED more when she started. So, when its time for raises, if everyone who is doing well gets 3%, then parent 1 will always be below parent 2.

I dont find it helpful to try to find discrimination and play the victim whenever something does not go your way. Not everyone does this, but a lot do - stick up for yourself from day one, whether your single, married, man, woman, parent, not...

Posted by: Salery issues | June 7, 2006 1:46 PM

"stick up for yourself from day one, whether your single, married, man, woman, parent, not..."

Amen to that! So many of my friends share a discomfort in asserting their own value. Don't be afraid to do this, it's essential not only to getting a salary you deserve but also to getting the other options and flexibility you feel you need. Of course, you have to be realistic, but don't just be shy.

Posted by: Megan | June 7, 2006 1:52 PM

I have to clear something up:

The articles in People magazine highlighted Catholic schools, who have certain written requirements of their staff, that the staff agree to. Mainly upholding the teachings of the Church in order to set examples for their students. They are very much allowed to do this.

If someone asked you to take off your shoes before entering their house, you do it. You know? You don't stomp in there with dirt on your shoes and expect the homeowners to then compensate you when they ask you to leave.

Posted by: Lou | June 7, 2006 2:23 PM

To Amy Joyce:
Yes, you did write that column, but prior to that, you had an online chat in which you didn't seem to have a problem with companies demanding salary secrecy. From the January 10, 2006 chat:

"Washington, D.C.: RE: new person hired at higher salary -- this shouldn't be brought up because often companies have rules about sharing salary information. A friend of mine was fired because she told a younger employee what she made at that level. The employee repeated this during a review and my friend was fired for sharing her salary. Even though it was what she made several years ago.

Amy Joyce: Good point. "

Then you asked for other people to share their salary secrecy stories, and then wrote the column. Presumably between the chat and the publication of the column, you did research showing that the law (NLRA I think) generally doesn't allow these kinds of policies. Which makes sense - but in the chat, pre-research, you seemed to take a cavalier attitude toward companies being able to fire you for this.

Which seemed to fit in with a recurring theme in your writing, which is that you should focus on your own situation and do a good job and not be distracted by the work situations of others. That's a great approach in general, but I think you are too quick to belittle concerns like those where others are allowed to have more flexible schedules (e.g. coming in late all the time, leaving early all the time, which you have dismissed as basically background noise) or given more leeway in other ways that you aren't. Unlike taking "2 pieces of birthday cake", I think these are perfectly legitimate issues to raise.

(Again, I enjoy your columns and think you do a really good job, so please don't take this as an attack.)

Sorry to hijack. Back to the regularly scheduled discussion thread!

Posted by: No Kids Again | June 7, 2006 2:51 PM

Lou, the issue isn't whether the school is allowed to impose their rules. The issue is that she was fired because she was pregnant. Just wanted to clarify.

Posted by: To Lou | June 7, 2006 2:57 PM

One was via IVF and the other was sex before marriage, both of which the Church hopes people refrain from......

Posted by: Lou | June 7, 2006 3:43 PM

To First One on the Way: if you think something about you is relevant to their decision to hire you, go ahead and mention it during the interview. For example, if you don't think it's OK for them to decide to not hire you because your're pregnant, then don't mention the pregnancy.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 7, 2006 3:50 PM

They can hope all they want, but they probably can't legally fire people who are pregnant. No one else can, so why should the Catholic church be able to?

Posted by: To Lou | June 7, 2006 4:45 PM

Sorry, that should be "The Catholic church probably can't legally fire people who are pregnant BECAUSE they are pregnant". I clicked submit too fast. Anyway, it will be interesting to watch the case go through the courts.

Posted by: To Lou | June 7, 2006 4:47 PM

"They can hope all they want, but they probably can't legally fire people who are pregnant. No one else can, so why should the Catholic church be able to?"

I'm not an expert, but I don't think religious organizations are required to play by the same rules as other for-profit and nonprofit organizations. They are, I believe, w/in their rights in deciding whether to hire or fire people whose behavior is inconsistent w/ church doctrine. In this case, it doesn't sound like the woman was fired simply because she was pregnant but because her pregnancies came about in ways that are not sanctioned by the church.

One issue that came up around the "faith-based initiatives" that President Bush has proposed was that these organizations would be receiving federal funds, but were not bound by federal laws regarding equal employment opportunity.

Posted by: THS | June 7, 2006 5:21 PM

42 U.S.C. Section 2000e-1(a) specifically exempts religious institutions from the prohibition of pregnancy discrimination in 42 U.S.C. Section 2000e(k). 42 U.S.C. Section 2000e-1(a) reads, in its entirety:

This subchapter shall not apply to an employer with respect to the employment of aliens outside any State, or to a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities.

Such clear-cut language has traditionally left courts with little recourse but to defer to a religious institution's decision to hire or fire an employee irrespective of its discriminatory nature. See Little v. Wuerl, 929 F.2d 944 (3d Cir. 1991)(court sustained school's termination of a non-Catholic teacher's divorce and remarriage that was counter to the Church's teachings).

With pregnancy, however, courts have frequently turned themselves itself knots in attempts to temper 2000e-1(a). Even when this occurs, however, courts' objections lie with the dissperate treatment of male and female teachers engaged in the same behavior (e.g, unmarried pregnant woman terminated; unmarried male partner retained), not the pregnancy itself.

Therefore, if a religious institution can prove it terminates male and female teachers alike for "improper" conduct, then the court should defer to its judgment. See Boyd v. Harding Academy of Memphis, Inc., 88 F.3d 410 (6th Cir. 1996)(court satisfied school punished male and female teachers alike; termination of unmarried pregnant teacher not actionable).

Furthermore, some courts have upheld the termination of a pregnant employee under a "role model" doctrine See Chambers v. Omaha Girls Club, 834 F.2d 697 (8th Cir. 1987)(unmarried pregnant woman terminated for not being good role model for teenage girls; court held termination necessary to sustain private organization's "bond fide occupational qualification").

Posted by: Washington, D.C. | June 7, 2006 5:49 PM

I actually thought the Catholic Church firing issue over IVF pregnancy was about right to privacy.

Posted by: Other Opinion | June 7, 2006 5:55 PM

Thanks, Washington, D.C. for the information. That's really interesting.

Do you know if the "role model" theory does or must apply equally as well - ie, an unmarried male teacher who fathers a child would also be terminated? I suppose there's the complicating question of public knowledge, since it's much clearer when a woman is pregnant than when a man has fathered a child, but if it becomes public knowledge it raises the same issues.

Posted by: Megan | June 7, 2006 5:58 PM

I was trying to say before, but maybe it wasn't clear.

It's not BECAUSE she is/got pregnant, but HOW she got pregnant.

I don't have any information, but I would hope that the same could be said for a male in similar situations.

Remember, that reality tv show about that girl who was going to marry that guy she just met for $1M and her family was freaking out and he turned out to be an actor??? Well she was fired from a teaching position at a Catholic school as well. Probably under the premise of making a mockery out of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. This doesn't just happen in cases of pregnancy.

ps-Leslie--I have been loving the "conversations" here, but I am a bit dissappointed at how these 2 People Magazine examples were presented. If you read them, as I did, you would see it clearly stated in the article, that it was the means by which they got pregnant that was the reason they were fired. If you take these 2 examples out of your argument, it turns out to be a weak one. Seems to me like you were stretching for something to write about with this one.

Posted by: Lou | June 7, 2006 6:29 PM

To "another washington dc: did you see my post at 9:18 am? Your story is my story." Yes, our stories are very similar. Its really shocking that this seems to occur with regularity even in the employ of our Federal Government. Also, the fact that there is no paid parental leave for Government employees should be seen as the testatment that it is to just how low a value our country places on parenthood. I stayed at the same agency afterward but have never felt the same about my job or the agency. Its unfortunate and yet apparently the Fed. Government is still one of the best places for a mother to work in terms of flexibility and time off combined with challenging and rewarding work. How sad.

Also, to the poster who asked about how we treat nannies who are moms - I did at one time have a nanny who had two school-aged children. I was very understanding when she had to take a sick day for her child or wanted to take my children to her house or needed to go to her child's school event. Yes, it made my life tougher but I sympathized with her tremendously and we remain close today (she now works part-time to be able to care for her children after school - one child had a truly HORRIBLE experience with a publicly funded aftercare program). The difference though, is that in my job, there are MANY other employees through whom to disperse work, and we all take on others' work for a variety of reasons including sickness, official travel, leave, short deadlines, heavy work loads... In a household position, however, the nanny is usually the sole full-time employee of a family. You just can not compare the sitautions. I am quite sure, however, that you are accurate in describing women with less education, and in lower socio-economic circumstances, as having a more difficult time when this type of discrimination occurrs. Is that not true in most situations? We must all remember, however, that while money and education do NOT buy mothers a discrimination free work environment, it should give us the awareness of just how wrong (and technically illegal) it is and give us the will and resources to do something about it.

Posted by: Washington, DC | June 7, 2006 10:07 PM

Hi Lou - Appreciate your comments. I read the People magazine article carefully (as I do nearly every word in People!). I understand that it was legal for the Catholic Church and/or its affiliates to terminate both women I mentioned (Washington DC, thank you for the full scoop -- nice to have someone so knowledgeable as part of the discussion). However, even though it was legal, I believe it was immoral and unethical for the women to lose their jobs, regardless of how or why they got pregnant -- right when they needed the income and stability the most in order to provide for their unborn children and be good moms. Discrimination against pregnant women was completely legal prior to 1964, but that doesn't mean it was right. Discrimination against pregnant women, by the Catholic Church or anyone, is wrong is my opinion, and destructive to women, kids and families in this country, even if it is technically legal.

To everyone else -- thank you for sharing your stories. Based on the small number of comments today, I think a lot of people may have been afraid to comment, even anonymously, perhaps for fear of recrimination of some sort. So a special appreciation for those of you who did anyway.

Posted by: Leslie | June 7, 2006 11:09 PM

No problem, Leslie. I really do love this "On Balance" section and even get defensive of you when other posters aren't as nice as they could be, for no apparent reason.

I still disagree with you though that it discrimination based on the fact that the women are pregnant. Like another poster said, someone else did bc of a divorce/remarriage situation.

My question to you would be this: How is a Catholic teacher supposed to instilled the tenets of the Catholic faith to her/his students if they themselves aren't following them? Is it a case of "do as I say, not as I do?" I don't think that sends the right message. These parents are sending (and paying big bucks) these kids to get something that they don't get in public school--a Catholic education as well. So what may seem like no big deal to the average person, is certainly important in this scope.

Also, have to say too, the CC has countless facilities/organizations to help women who are pregnant etc regardless of how they got that way. It's not a matter of not wanting the best for these people, it's a matter of what it says to the children they are supposed to be teaching.

Instead of looking at it, like it's all about me (the pregnant teacher), she/he should think about what message they are sending to the kids. And the Church has some say in that.

Otherwise, I'll keep on reading!

Posted by: Lou | June 8, 2006 8:02 AM

regarding questions about pregnancy and looking for a job, I think its a tough situation. I think you do have an obligation to tell the employer when you are up for a job but I would wait until they are close to offering you a job before you even mention anything. It would be the same thing in terms of if you were interviewing and had surgery scheduled -- you would need to tell then before you take the job that you would be out. But telling a potential employer at your first interview you are pregnant is not a good idea -- that's when you talk about what you can offer the company. I had a friend, however, who was pregnant, took a job and then told them when she was 6 months pregnant (3 months after she started) and she had done a great job for them so they didn't mind it.

Regarding washington dc's comments -- I feel your pain. I had a similar situation with my job at a DC trade association and do think I was "asked to look elsewhere" because of the fact that I was a new mother. We were supposed to have annual reviews -- mine was supposed to be in August, the baby was born in August and the following MAY, even though I had been there for almost 6 years, my review said I should look elsewhere -- the reasons given were strange -- my boss actually was responsible for the things that I was criticized for. I had no warning whatsoever (no verbal discussions about expectations, etc no attempt to mentor me by my boss ever) -- She handed me a written annual review that was 9 months late and just a few months after I returned from maternity leave.). The personnel manager was completely disgusted with the situation and said I should speak with the head of the trade association about this but like "washington dc" I didn't want to make waves. DC is not a place that you sue your company/organization or you cannot get a job there again. I wanted out of there anyways so I moved on to something closer to home (I had a 80 mile round trip commute every day)).
I think Leslie should take a look at this whole issue in DC -- I'm sure there are lots of parents who work there who are frustrated with the attitudes.....I think its ridiculous how work focused the town is -- the first question you ever get asked is "who do you work for" or "what do you do"

Posted by: typical working mother | June 8, 2006 9:44 AM

To Lou,

I certainly agree with the spirit of your post -- that a religious institution should be able retain teachers who instill/inspire those religious values.

However, you noted, "Instead of looking at it, like it's all about me (the pregnant teacher), she/he should think about what message they are sending to the kids. And the Church has some say in that."

Of course the Church has some say in that, but look at all the Catholic values at play here: had the woman had an abortion none of this would have become public and she would have kept her job. Isn't that a pretty strong Catholic message?

Or the school could have kept the teacher and focused on compassion, charity, foregiveness.

Instead, they chose to toss out a woman at one of the most vulnerable (not sure if this is the word I want) times in her life.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 8, 2006 9:56 AM

Obviously, they can't cover every single act because there are ones that will never come to light. But once the act comes to light--pregnancy being an obvious one, the Church is obligated to act accordingly. You can't react to what you are unaware of.

I also believe (correct me if I'm wrong) that the People article stated that the lady who conceived via IVF went to a preist and asked for guidance and he encouraged her not to do it that way. But she did it anyway. Then how can she be surprised when they terminated her.

There was also a Catholic school teacher recently fired because she was seen at a Planned Parenthood rally by one of her pro-life, counter-protesting students (in CA, I think). The Church is being consistent and I think it's refreshing to not see an instituion waver just because it might stir the pot.

They clearly state what they expect and in return the teachers/staff agree to it. I don't see where the confusion/discrimination is.

Btw-I just wanted to mention that I think it is a great thing that this discussion has been respectful and insightful, even with the differing opinions!!!

Posted by: Lou | June 8, 2006 10:16 AM

I don't have kids (yet), but I have encountered questions during interviews about my marital or relationship status. The very first company I interviewed with after college asked me "if I was involved with anyone, because it's such a pain to hire young women only to have them get married a few months to a year later and have to find someone new." Needless to say, I didn't take the job.

Posted by: blm | June 8, 2006 11:26 AM

The discussion about the Catholic Church and its perogatives is really interesting. I don't want to say this just to be inflammatory, but I am genuinely curious how Lou and others square this with the Church's complicity in child abuse by priests.

There have been many instances in the last few years where it has been shown not only that the priests were abusing children, but that the church knew about it and failed to properly address the problem. In addition, the church has consistently been reluctant to agree to provide the information to law enforcement officials, which I think is criminal and a breach of their moral obligations.

If the Church has been so forgiving of priests when they have clearly violated not only church doctrine but also secular law, why should it not also be forgiving of teachers who have made much less egregious mistakes? What kind of message is that sending to the kids?

I know two wrongs do not equal a right, but it seems like the harshness of the church's actions towards these women is not balanced in light of its approach to other problems, and I guess that's what makes it feel discriminatory to me.

Posted by: not so sure | June 8, 2006 12:05 PM

A teacher at my parochial school was terminated because she is a single mother (never married). Her kid is in 2nd grade! She was pregnant at the school with him! The new crop of parents thought she was a bad example to their kids, never mind that she was teaching 7 year olds and they don't know or care about her personal life. Whatever happend to 'love one another' and to 'forgive is divine'? At least she didn't have an abortion, which no one would have known about.

Posted by: What? | June 8, 2006 12:35 PM

1. the 2 women of discussion lost their job, they weren't kicked out of the church.
2. Men become priests because of a spiritual calling, they aren't hired
for a job at the Catholic Church.
This should clear things up for you.

Posted by: To Not So Sure | June 8, 2006 12:39 PM

Not so sure - It is an interesting point that you bring up and I can understand the disconnect.

First off, it is a terrible thing that any of these priests were indecent with children or anyone else for that matter.

Priests are not without sin. In an ideal world, all priests that were found to be inappropriate should have been handled accordingly. It seems that this isn't always the case. (Same could probably be said for the pregnancy instances mentioned above - inconsistency.)

So it would be ideal if things were handled completely the same with each incident (meaning the correct way).

I think where it gets sticky is that if someone ALLEGES that a priest molested them etc., it seems to be assumed that it happened. It is an allegation, and it wouldn't seem unfair to drag a good man's name through the mud if it turned out to be unfounded. Also, as people can see, a lot of these allegations are settled and I think SOME (certainly not all, and I am not saying this frivolously) people see dollar signs. Just the nature of the beast. Then there are the cases of true and down right wrong abuse by priests that were covered up etc. It was wrong and there aren't any excuses for that kind of behavior.

Another point I wanted to make (sorry this is getting longer than I intended) is that these women don't think they did anything wrong. It would be one thing if they wanted forgiveness, but they think they did the right thing and aren't looking to be forgiven. If that was the case, I believe the Church would be loving and merciful. Just a thought.........

Another issue is the confessional. When a person confesses to a priest they are obligated to keep that information to themselves. (Same as patient/client etc.) So it is my guess, I can't speak to this 100%, that if a priest confessed to another priest that they were inappropriate they can't then go forward with that. Same for murder etc. I remember asking that question in religious education when I was younger.

Posted by: Lou | June 8, 2006 12:45 PM

Leslie wrote "Based on the small number of comments today, I think a lot of people may have been afraid to comment, even anonymously, perhaps for fear of recrimination of some sort."

I think that this is an interesting statement. Instead of thinking that people didn't want to speak out, my thought was that this is not much of a problem and that is why there weren't many comments. It doesn't seem to me that the people who read this blog are afraid to comment on anything.

Posted by: curious | June 8, 2006 12:47 PM

somebody please explain to me why IVF is such an anathema to the Catholic Church. I understand why they are against abortion. But this woman probably chose IVF because it was the only way for her to overcome infertility. Having been subject to several IVF cycles myself, it's not a picnic and only those who are really desperate to be mothers (and have the $) go down that route. Why is the Catholic Church denying this woman an opportunity to be a mother and raise her child/children Catholic? Seems short-sighted to me.....

Posted by: non catholic mother of 2 | June 8, 2006 12:50 PM

I believe that the Catholic Church is against anything that is not "natural" regarding sex/reproduction. Therefore, no abortion, no birth control other than the 'rhythm method", no assisted reproduction of any sort.

Posted by: curious | June 8, 2006 12:56 PM

"Having been subject to several IVF cycles myself, it's not a picnic and only those who are really desperate to be mothers (and have the $) go down that route"

Actually, many people who are desperate to be parents will adopt children.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 8, 2006 12:58 PM

Curious - I happen to agree with you. I don't think this struck a big chord with many people.

Without getting to technical - sex inside marriage has 2 meanings 1)unitive (as in to bring the couple together) and 2)procreative. The idea is not ever to separate the 2. So IVF is procreative but not unitive. Does that make sense??

The pleasurable part is implicit in the proper context of marriage---I know there will be responses wondering about that!

Posted by: Lou | June 8, 2006 1:09 PM

Lou, thanks for responding thoughtfully and not taking offense at the question. I agree that accusations of child molestation are very difficult matters - false accusations can be motivated by a number of things, and can mar an innocent person's name forever. On the other hand, when the person accused in a position of trust with children, to not investigate seems so risky. My main concern is where the church had multiple reports at the time, and rather than turning it over to law enforcement or "firing" the priest (can you do that?), did nothing. But, I think those were more isolated incidents.

As for the comments from "To not so sure," who wrote:

1. the 2 women of discussion lost their job, they weren't kicked out of the church.
2. Men become priests because of a spiritual calling, they aren't hired
for a job at the Catholic Church.
This should clear things up for you.

They don't clear anything up. To point number 1, why weren't the priests removed from their positions when they were molesting children? To point number 2, I don't see what that has to do with anything. Are you saying that because they have a spiritual calling it's ok to violate children? I would assume not, but without further explanation it's difficult for me to see what you are saying.

Posted by: not so sure | June 8, 2006 1:10 PM

Lou, thanks for all your comments today, they are really interesting. Do you know if the disapproval of IVF is across the board in the church? I ask because in thinking about your response, while assisted fertility treatments are not physically unitive in the way natural sex is, when undertaken by a couple it is a joint endeavor. In the couples I've known who've undergone fertility treatments, it's been emotionally demanding on both individuals, and sometimes involves both physically, which can require the couple to really act together to support each other, so in that sense it can be unitive. Though it seems like it also sometimes puts immense pressure on the relationship, so maybe not. Anyway, I just wondered if there were more liberal arms of the church that don't view it as necessarily against church doctrine.

Posted by: Megan | June 8, 2006 1:27 PM

Megan - Unitive is meant in a physical sense, as well as an emotional one. 2 people becoming 1, quite literally. That is the sentiment in at the time the marriage takes place and it should continue.

Another big reason, I should add, that the Church is against IVF, is the fact that a number of embryos are discarded. Those little lives are ended when they are not "used" in the IVF process.

It is across the board within the Church, yet I am sure it is not as clear to some. Any good priest should say the same thing.

I can relate to the trials of infertility. Our best friends just found out they are pregnant after more than 3 years of trying. Being practicing Catholics they were not allowed to used IVF. In the end, they met with some Creighton method Dr's and voila!!

Posted by: Lou | June 8, 2006 1:50 PM

If you want to read the Catholic church's official instruction, you can go to


Posted by: Rockville Mom | June 8, 2006 2:00 PM

to poster on June 8, 2006 at 12:58 PM

Adoption is very expensive and just as nerve racking and stressful on marriage as the invasive medical procedures for infertility. I think it is natural for couples to first try to create something of their own flesh and blood and if that does not work out than they go to donor eggs/sperm route and only then they would consider adoption (if they have any money left). Some couples have unsurmoutable infertility problems and adoption is the only option for them to become parents. I am not talking about celebrities who choose to adopt babies at 40 or choose to adopt because the process of being pregnant and the childbirth is too painful

Posted by: Anonymous | June 9, 2006 9:24 AM

"Another issue is the confessional. When a person confesses to a priest they are obligated to keep that information to themselves. (Same as patient/client etc.) So it is my guess, I can't speak to this 100%, that if a priest confessed to another priest that they were inappropriate they can't then go forward with that."

Well, visit http://www.snapnetwork.org to read about priests and sexual abuse of children. The sexual abuse was bad enough, but it was not hidden from the laity or public because of the confessional. After reading up on this issue for the past few years, I've been mortified to learn that many bishops and above have knowingly transferred pedophile priests and there is often a paper trail to prove it. (Sometimes the bishops themselves are the accused perpetrators). So it's not a priestly problem, it's more of a bishop-archbishop-papal problem of perpetuating a culture that condoned sexual activity by adult men with children. Sounds outrageous, yes, but read about it and you will be stunned at what you learn.

Yes, even JP II knew of abuse and really pretty much refused to do anything about it.

Unfortunately, the reason I had to learn about this topic is that someone very close to me revealed his abuse.

As for women losing their jobs in Catholic schools, I am now convinced that women's sexual sins are considered more powerful and disgusting to the male hierarchy, and THAT is the reason lay women teachers and not male priests are punished.

Even male priests who have impregnated girls and paid for their abortions were not punished. Sometimes they weren't even transferred to new parishes.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 9, 2006 12:12 PM

"2. Men become priests because of a spiritual calling, they aren't hired
for a job at the Catholic Church."

That's not how the hierarchy argues its cases in court. The archbishop of New York tried to argue (when he was a bishop in Connecticut) that priests are simply "contractors" and not employees. He tried to argue this in order to avoid being responsible for the priest's sexual abuse of a child. Nice, huh?

And, truthfully, it is a job. It has a pension and benefits, etc. Unless you're in a special order where you may take a vow of poverty. But it is an occupation. Some may feel called to do it, but that doesn't mean it's not a job.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 9, 2006 12:17 PM

"As for women losing their jobs in Catholic schools, I am now convinced that women's sexual sins are considered more powerful and disgusting to the male hierarchy, and THAT is the reason lay women teachers and not male priests are punished."

Just plain silly.

Like I said, many priests did wrong, but this is only a small percentage of priests. Your examples are the exception to the rule. We don't despise/condemn all mothers/fathers because some abuse their children do we???

Posted by: Lou | June 9, 2006 2:43 PM

Lou, I don't think that the nameless poster was saying that all priests are bad. I think his/her argument is that the female teachers were punished more dramatically and consistently than the male priests because women's sins are seen as worse than men's sins.

The situations are hard to compare, but I do think that Christianity in general has a long history of being more averse to women's sexuality and sexual sins; and that in our society in general we have much stronger standards of chastity for women than men. So I wouldn't be surprised if there's some truth to the statement.

Posted by: Megan | June 9, 2006 3:59 PM

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