A reader writes:
I recently interviewed for a position that I was recommended for by the Director. We had worked together previously, he knows I'm a good fit and very qualified so he put my name before the hiring manager. The interview went great, everyone got along swimmingly, but then the hiring manager said something along the lines of, "Well, let's address the elephant in the room. We can't hire you and have you go out on maternity leave." The team all agreed that I would be a great fit if only I were not pregnant.
This blows my mind.
a) I was under the impression that this practice is illegal.
b) There's no way in the world that playing this card would do me a bit of good. What, are they going to hire me because I threatened them? If I say a peep, I'm toast. But then they also made a hiring decision based on me being pregnant, which is also equally as uncool.
What would you do?
Yep, it's illegal all right, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The only exception to this would be if they have fewer than 15 employees, since Title VII only applies to employers with 15 or more people on staff.
And you're also right that threatening them with legal action isn't likely to endear you to them. Even if they hired you out of fear of a lawsuit, it's hard to imagine you're going to have a good working relationship with these people after that.
You asked what I would do, which is different from what you can do. You can file a complaint with the EEOC, which investigates charges of pregnancy discrimination.
But it's not what I'd do, although it's an option for you. What I'd do is this: I'd get back in touch with them and say, "Look, I've been thinking about our conversation, and I need to say this. I don't think your staff realizes that that not hiring someone because she's pregnant is actually illegal. It violates an explicit prohibition in Title VII. I'm not saying this to bully you into hiring me -- I think that ship has sailed -- but I do think it's really important that you and anyone on staff involved with hiring know about this law, so that you don't find yourself in this situation with another pregnant woman in the future. I'm not litigious and have no interest in pursuing this, but I felt I needed to say something, because I'm sure you must not realize it."
And then I would move on.
I'd handle it that way because I don't want to work somewhere that feels like I threatened them to get the job. And I don't want to get a reputation for being litigious, because unfortunately that has a way of closing some doors that I'd rather have open. Does that suck? Yes. But this situation is fraught with trade-offs, and that's the one I'd choose.
But you'd be well within your rights to pursue it legally if you wanted to.