Video: Terminated by pregnancy

By Anne Thompson Chief environmental correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/31/2006 7:19:18 PM ET 2006-04-01T00:19:18

Jack is the joy of Pamela Alexander's life, but she had no idea how much becoming Jack's mom would change her life.

Two years ago, she was a top salesperson for a Wisconsin company called Name Protect, winning, she says, accolades and promotions until she revealed she was pregnant. Within two weeks, Alexander was fired in a cost-cutting move.

"You shouldn't have to make this choice between keeping your job and having a child," she says. "To have them let me go for budgetary reasons, I mean, the only thing that made sense, the only thing I could conclude, was because I was pregnant."

Today, more than 70 million American women work and almost three-quarters of them have children — which makes pregnancy discrimination cases seem so 1980s. But in fact, claims are increasing, up 31 percent from 1992 to 2005, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Mary Jo O'Neill is an EEOC attorney in Phoenix who handles such claims. She attributes the increase to companies that don't realize it's against the law and have misconceptions about how pregnancy can affect one's job.

"Oh, they're going to miss work, oh, they're not going to be committed to the job, oh, they're not coming back, oh, they're going to be expensive," says O'Neill, listing the misconceptions. "And so a lot of those mis-fears and stereotypes really lead to discrimination."

To protect yourself, women's rights attorney Jack Tuckner says put all your news and requests in writing.

"To announce it to your boss at the water cooler is a mistake," says Tuckner. "It could be very friendly, in an e-mail or a letter to Benefits or Human Resources saying, 'I'm just inquiring into my rights and benefits when this leave begins.'"

The state of Wisconsin found no probable cause that Pamela Alexander was a victim of discrimination. Now, with what her attorney says is new documentation, Alexander is suing Name Protect in federal court. Name Protect says the allegations of pregnancy discrimination are "categorically false" and expects the court will agree.

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