The Letter of Sex Discrimination Laws Versus Reality

Bloomberg LP, the world's largest financial news and data provider, is the latest corporation to be slapped with accusations of sexual discrimination, part of what experts told ABC News is a coming tidal wave of such complaints as more women continue their ascent in the workplace.

In the suits filed last week by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, plaintiffs Tanys Lancaster, 38, Jill Patricot, 35, and Janet Loures, 41, allege they were discriminated against because they were pregnant or on maternity leave.

In the court documents obtained by ABCNEWS.com, the EEOC claims the women were not stripped of responsibility, demoted or denied compensation during or after their maternity leaves.

The women also allege that they were often told things like, "You are not committed" and "You do not want to be here" during and following their pregnancies, according to the court filings.

With women making up approximately 46 percent of the work force in America, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more and more companies may be forced to decide how flexible they are willing to be with employees' schedules – particularly those of expectant or new mothers.

Sex discrimination laws vary by state, but two federal laws govern much of the litigation surrounding claims like the EEOC's. Title VII, which is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of gender, and the Family and Medical Leave Act permits employees to take unpaid leaves if they need to take care of a medical condition or an ailing family member. Upon return, employees are guaranteed their old positions or one of equal stature.

Despite Laws, Discrimination Still Happens

"Many companies have indeed come a long way to develop solid formal and informal policies that support the needs of working parents, both men and women," said Tory Johnson, ABC's "Good Morning America's" workplace contributor. "But even when policies exist, they're only as good as a manager's willingness to implement and adhere to them."

While laws on the books govern employment practices, what goes on behind the scenes is often the root of the problem when it comes to sex and pregnancy discrimination.

Some companies hesitate to hire and retain pregnant women under the assumption that starting a family will take time away from the job at hand, according to gender discrimination experts.

"Leaders of companies make assumptions as to what it means to be pregnant, and that is a form of subtle discrimination," said Dr. Diane Shrier, clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at George Washington University Medical School. "The bias continues despite the law. ... We all grow up with certain biases and expectations that are gender-based discrimination. The law is important and the workplace requirements and educating people is important but what really makes the difference is the people at the top."

Lawyers who defend employers in cases much like the one Bloomberg LP faces told ABCNEWS.com that depending on the particular job description, employers have a certain amount of room to squeeze employees out or exclude candidates from a position.

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