Is the Maternal Wall the New Glass Ceiling?

Many women and people of historically underrepresented groups are familiar with the glass ceiling: an invisible barrier that keeps a demographic from rising beyond a certain level in a profession. Mothers or expectant mothers face a second barrier, the maternal wall which is, unfortunately, becoming more common in the workplace. The maternal wall occurs when a woman becomes pregnant and is unfairly discriminated against at work. She may be denied a promotion, or a bonus, or her salary may lag behind her male peers. “Some women hit the maternal wall long before the glass ceiling,” said Joan C. Williams, a professor at University of California Hastings College of Law who has testified about pregnancy discrimination at regulatory hearings. “There are 20 years of lab studies that show the bias exists and that, once triggered, it’s very strong.”

Pregnancy Discrimination in America’s Top Companies

Each child chops 4 percent off a woman’s hourly wages, according to a 2014 analysis by a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Brave mothers are now stepping forward to disclose how the maternal wall has negatively impacted their work lives. For example, Rachel Mountis won awards for being a top salesperson at Merck when she got pregnant. She was laid off three weeks before giving birth. Stephanie Hicks, another working mother, sued the Tuscaloosa Alabama police department for pregnancy discrimination. Ms. Hicks was breastfeeding her child, and her doctor told her that her bulletproof vest was so tight that it risked causing a breast infection. Her superior’s solution was a vest so baggy that it unsafely left portions of her torso exposed. Tens of thousands of women have taken legal action alleging pregnancy discrimination at top U.S. companies including Walmart, Merck, AT&T, Whole Foods, 21st Century Fox, KPMG, Novartis and the law firm Morrison & Foerster. From Walmart to Wall Street, pregnant women everywhere are hitting the maternal wall at work. The financial industry in New York City is one of the worst offenders, but other industries – including retail and sales – also have a troubling history of pregnancy discrimination.

The Maternal Wall and the Wage Gap

Researchers at the Census Bureau recently published a paper that examined the pay of spouses in the United States. Two years before couples had their first child, the men made only slightly more than the women. By the time their children turned 1, however, the size of that pay gap had doubled to more than $25,000. The researchers said that women taking maternity leave, dropping out of the workforce, or working fewer hours could contribute to that disparity, but it does not explain all of it. In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which made it illegal to treat pregnant women differently from other people “similar in their ability or inability to work.” This research suggests that this issue still has not been resolved. Do you think the maternal wall is an accurate explanation for the differences in wages based on gender?

Seek a New York Discrimination Attorney to Combat Pregnancy Discrimination

The maternal wall should never hold back a woman at work. If you feel you have been wrongly discriminated against at work during a pregnancy, the Law Office of Christopher Q. Davis, located in New York City, can assist you. Contact us today at (646) 430-7930 to schedule a free case evaluation and receive experienced legal counsel.