Posted June 27th, 2018.
By Natalie Kitroeff
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York directed a state agency on Wednesday to investigate allegations of pregnancy discrimination at Walmart, Merck, Novartis and Glencore.
Mr. Cuomo said the agency, the Division of Human Rights, also planned to run ads on New York City subways to raise awareness about pregnancy discrimination. The ads will direct people to a new website and a hotline, 1-888-392-3644, that they can use to report employers that have mistreated pregnant workers. The ads will start appearing on Wednesday on digital kiosks and screens in more than 100 stations on every subway line, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The actions were prompted by a recent New York Times article that revealed widespread discrimination against new and expecting mothers in some of the country’s largest companies, Mr. Cuomo’s office said.
“Discrimination against those who are pregnant is illegal, and we will hold employers who violate the law fully accountable,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement to The Times.
New York is one of 23 states, along with Washington, D.C., with laws requiring employers to accommodate pregnant workers, according to the National Women’s Law Center. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act merely says employers must treat pregnant women the same way they do other people who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.”
Under New York law, employers must offer “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant women, including rest breaks, light duty or a transfer from a dangerous job. A different state law requires employers to allow workers to pump breast milk at least once every three hours, without deducting that time from paid meal or rest breaks.
On Wednesday, the Division of Human Rights — the agency that enforces state anti-discrimination law — plans to send letters to Walmart, Merck, Novartis and Glencore requesting information about claims of pregnancy discrimination. The Times article quoted women who currently or previously worked at those companies complaining that they faced discrimination while pregnant or shortly after having a child.
The companies will have until Aug. 1 to respond to the agency’s information requests. The state could then decide to subpoena the companies for more records or file administrative complaints against them seeking damages.
Walmart, Merck and Glencore have denied engaging in pregnancy discrimination. Novartis previously said in a statement that after settling a class-action lawsuit in 2010 for $175 million, it had taken additional steps to promote gender equality.
Alphonso David, Mr. Cuomo’s counsel, said the state might open investigations into other companies if the human rights division received credible evidence of discrimination as a result of its outreach campaign.
“We are hopeful that to the extent women are suffering from pregnancy discrimination they come forward,” Mr. David said. “They do not have to hire a lawyer or spend their resources or their money, because we will represent their interests free of charge.”
The subway ads feature photos of visibly pregnant women in different workplaces. “Pregnant in the Workplace?” the ads ask. “Know Your Rights.