“If there’s not a policy in place you can go to someone in management that you think could do something about the discrimination and ask for help.” attorney Teri Mastando

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By Anna Claire Vollers | avollers@al.com

Pregnancy-related discrimination is illegal, but it still happens. And sometimes, employers who discriminate aren’t held accountable unless the employee threatens legal action.

We spoke with Teri Mastando, a Huntsville attorney who specializes in employment law, about the kind of help that’s available.

If you think you’ve experienced workplace discrimination related to pregnancy or breastfeeding, here are some steps you can take.

1. Check the handbook.

“Most companies – the best companies – have an employee handbook,” says Mastando. “It’s the big long document that nobody reads but everyone signs something saying they’ve read it.”

Check your employee handbook for policies about how discrimination allegations are supposed to be handled and follow the policy. It may direct you, for example, to contact your supervisor or human resources department.

If there’s not a policy in place, said Mastando, you can go to someone in management that you think could do something about the discrimination and ask for help.

2. How big is your company?

Companies with fewer than 15 employees are exempt from federal sex discrimination laws that protect against pregnancy discrimination. So if your company is small, you may be out of luck, legally speaking.

But there could be other options, said Mastando, such as state gender discrimination or harassment laws that might apply to your situation.

3. If your management doesn’t fix the problem, go to the EEOC.

You’ll need to file a charge of employment discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You can do this yourself online, or you can hire an attorney to file it for you. The best option for you depends on the money or time you’re willing to invest.

“I’ve had people say they’ve tried to schedule an appointment (with the EEOC) but the next one is months away or next year,” said Mastando. “A lawyer can probably help you get it done more quickly, but you can certainly do it yourself.”

You’ve also got a time limit. An EEOC complaint has to be filed within 180 days from the last day you experienced discrimination.

4. I’ve filed with the EEOC. Now what?

You wait a few months while the EEOC investigates your claim.

“The EEOC gets the company to respond to the claim, the company gives the EEOC a response, and the EEOC may do on-site investigations,” said Mastando.

“If they haven’t completed their investigation in six months, you can request the EEOC issue you a ‘right to sue.’ Or you can leave it with the EEOC and let them continue over however many months or years their investigation might take.”

If the EEOC finds that discrimination occurred, it will issue a letter saying that your company discriminated against you. Then the EEOC will try to help resolve the situation financially. In rare cases, said Mastando, the EEOC’s litigation department might take up the case.

If the EEOC doesn’t find evidence of discrimination, it will issue a letter saying so.

Either way, you can request a ‘right to sue’ letter from the EEOC, which you must have before you can sue your company for pregnancy discrimination.

5. Take it to court.

If the EEOC wasn’t able to help you resolve your discrimination claim, your next option is suing your employer for discrimination. That process will likely take months, possibly years. In addition to private attorneys, there are also nonprofit organizations, such as A Better Balance, that offer help in pregnancy and breastfeeding discrimination cases.

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