People wonder why I didn’t quit my job as the office manager of an intermodal transportation company the first time I heard him say it. The owner, my boss, was very clear when he said that he always got rid of pregnant women because he didn’t want to pay for maternity leave or saved vacation time. I didn’t leave because, quite simply, I needed the job. My husband had taken a huge pay cut to pursue his dream, and we had to pay rent, car notes, other bills and stay on top of our mortgage on our home in another state.
But needing a steady paycheck didn’t make me stupid or naïve. I began writing down everything he said about pregnant women – including dates and times — as well as my value to the company. I’ve kept a journal since I could write, so I guess my tendency to document everything started there. Later, a mentor introduced me to Franklin Covey calendars and project management. I loved the calendars because it was easy to keep record of my day, and I also took a project management course, which reinforced record keeping. Ultimately, all of these things — and the notes I kept — came in very handy.
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I had been employed for about a year when I found out I was pregnant. And while I was well aware of my boss’s negative feelings toward pregnant employees, I felt secure in the fact that I was a solid asset to the company. In less than a year, I had recovered more than $200,000 in bad debts as well as decreased losses relating to box rentals. I even helped with recruiting new contractors and securing new business, something none of the previous office managers had done. Naturally, I believed that my contribution to the company’s bottom line would show him my value as an employee. Sadly, I was wrong.
My boss began to harass me and make my job difficult by refusing to give me the floor in team meetings. Eventually he stopped inviting me to meetings altogether. Then, he found minor things to complain about that didn’t have anything to do with my job function. He turned into a bully and would throw files at me or snatch papers from my hands.
I tried pulling him to the side and speaking to him about his behavior, but he said that Georgia (where the company was located) was a fire-at-will state and that he could run his business and treat his employees they way he wanted. If I didn’t like it, he said, I could quit. I know now that that’s what he wanted me to do. One of the older female employees who had been working at the company for a while said, “He’s treating you that way because he wants you to leave. If you quit, he won’t have to pay unemployment benefits. But if he fires you with your track record, he will probably have to pay.”
I tried to stay as long as I could, but the final straw came when my boss came into my office and started throwing papers and pulling files from my cabinet. It was like a tornado had come through. When he left, I packed my things, typed my resignation letter and left a copy on his desk before I went home.
I knew that if I quit I would not receive unemployment benefits, so I considered legal action. But when I researched discrimination, I learned that I could dispute an unemployment denial. The environment at the office was just too stressful to stay. And even if I sued my boss and won, I still would have likely waited years for a settlement or payout. The thing that saved me is my record keeping. Had I not had a planner with events that occurred before and after my pregnancy, the benefit caseworker might not have taken my unemployment claim seriously. She did, though, and despite my former boss’s attempts to dispute my case, she approved my benefits.
About 2-and-a-half years after leaving the transportation company, I launched the Dorsey Group, LLC, a woman-owned, strategy-centered public relations firm specializing in leveraging relationships to heighten awareness for our clients. We build partnerships to attain visibility, create media campaigns, gain sponsorships and produce special events. Our team goes beyond introducing our clients to the public; we engage with the market in active courtship to gain consumer commitment via education, participation and trust. In short, we curate credibility.
Part of my decision to start my own business was certainly selfish — I never wanted to be in a position again where I was dependent on a job even when I was being blatantly discriminated against. But it’s about other women, too. Eventually, I want to be able to hire women to work for my firm. And, hopefully, in addition to the virtual work I offer, I will have a few full-time employees who come to work at my “kid-friendly” work space.
Pregnancy should be one of the most exciting and joyful times in a woman’s life, but unfortunately, working in a hostile environment can make enjoying that very natural and normal part of life next to impossible. If you find yourself being discriminated against in your workplace, you need to seek help immediately. Have a conversation with the victimizer. If that is not possible or if you are afraid, speak with a supervisor or devise an exit strategy with the help of family, friends and trusted colleagues. No matter what, you should be able to work in peace while enjoying your pregnancy.