Victory for Workers With Children
'YOU'RE having a baby? Congratulations! But we're sorry - you might not be able to work here anymore."For many years, that was the message implicit in maternity policies at AT&T. Female employees were required to take unpaid leave at the end of their sixth or seventh month of pregnancy. They received only 30 days' credit toward seniority during their absence, even though employees on disability leave received full credit. They were also given no guarantee of a job when they returned after the birth of their baby, although the company reportedly held jobs for men undergoing cosmetic surgery or recovering from hunting accidents. Now 13,000 women who lost jobs, seniority, or income because of pregnancy-related discrimination at AT&T between 1965 and 1977 will receive a measure of compensation for those inequities. The company, which amended its pregnancy leave policy in 1978, has agreed to pay $66 million to settle a class-action suit brought with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It is the EEOC's largest cash recovery ever. Evan Kemp Jr., chairman of the agency, underscored the significance of the settlement by saying, "This isn't just a victory for the EEOC or for women; it's a victory for all employees who face discrimination anywhere." During the past decade, American businesses have made commendable progress in accommodating the needs of workers with children. Parental leave policies, child-care options, and more flexible work schedules all attest to a growing corporate sensitivity to families. But pregnancy can still be a career liability, as it is, for example, in firms that require women to return within a few weeks after delivery or risk losing their jobs. The AT&T settlement serves as a forceful reminder that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy has been illegal since 1978. Perhaps it also brings working mothers and fathers closer to the day when all employers will say, "You're having a baby? Congratulations! We'll do what we can to help."