Are You a Victim of Maternal Profiling?

Jeanne Bauman seems like an ideal job applicant. The Bethlehem, Pa., resident has 10 years of experience as an office manager at medical facilities and has glowing recommendation letters from previous employers.

During job interviews she says everything goes well and she very often makes it to the final round of the application process, but eventually the same questions always come up.

"They'll ask me, 'are you single, are you married, do you have children?'" Bauman says. And when she tells them she has three children, she says the interviewer's face drops and she gets the feeling the interview is pretty much over.

"It's very shocking to see the expressions on their face while I'm interviewing," Bauman says. "I never had trouble getting a job before I had children."

She says one employer told her it would simply cost too much in health insurance. So she went to meet with Lisa Matukaitis, an attorney in Harrisburg, Pa., who says cases like Bauman's can be difficult to prove, but she comes across them frequently.

"Every day, we hear more and more stories of women who are being denied access to employment solely because they have children," Matukaitis says.

In fact, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Sociology, women with children are half as likely to be called back by an employer than childless women with the same qualifications. It's a practice women's rights groups like "Moms Rising" refer to as "maternal profiling."

And here's what really makes women in states like Pennsylvania angry.

"Currently, under Pennsylvania law, it's not illegal for employers to ask whether or not you have children if you ask that question of all applicants," says Michael Hardiman, chief counsel for The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

Basically, as long as employers can prove that they ask both men and women equally if they are married or have children, they are not doing anything illegal.

If they discriminate against women, that is, of course, against the law. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 makes clear that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

But many mothers say it should be against the law for employers to even ask the question of anyone during a job interview.

Right now, 22 states have laws that specifically prohibit employers from asking applicants about their marital or familial status. There is a bill pending in the state legislature that, if passed, would make Pennsylvania the 23rd state. But the bill has been brought up repeatedly in the past without becoming law.

According to some attorneys who deal with workplace issues, men are rarely asked about having children. But some say that in an interview situation women must confront the simple fact that some employers still believe mothers, especially single mothers, can be less reliable on the job.

Jeanne Bauman hopes the Pennsylvania bill will make it this time. Like millions of women who thought they'd only have to face the glass ceiling, now she's up against the maternal wall.

Do you believe you have encountered discrimination at work because you are pregnant, a parent or a caregiver? If so, The Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, runs a free hotline for employees who may be facing employment discrimination because of their family responsibilities The Hotline can be reached by sending an email to hotline@worklifelaw.org, or by calling 1-800-981-9495 or 202-680-8964.

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