The Letter of Sex Discrimination Laws Versus Reality

"Employers would have to show that because of your pregnancy you wouldn't be able to satisfy the essential functions of the job," said Salvatore Gangemi, a New York City employment lawyer who has represented both employers and employees in discrimination cases. "This applies to the job that someone already has and one they may want to get hired for."

But if employers can show that continuing to employ a certain person for a job would be an "undue hardship" for the corporation, said Gangemi, the rules change a bit. The realities of being pregnant or a mother may mean one day leaving work early for a child's doctor's appointment or wanting to be home before the children go to bed.

"Law firms may say, 'What do you mean you want to leave at six o'clock? There are associates who need to follow up with you at eight o'clock on a regular basis,' and that's not going to work," said Gangemi. "It's an essential function of the job, and if there is no way around there – if they can't work out a situation where it's acceptable to the law firm if she comes in early, then they could just say, 'Sorry, this isn't going to work."

Flexibility in the Workplace

"Every day more and more companies develop both formal and informal policies to help accommodate" employees with care giving responsibilities outside of work, "not necessarily because it's the generous thing to do or the kind thing to do, but often because it's best for business. It retains loyalty keeps them happy and productive and at the end of the day, its best for business," said Johnson, who is also the CEO of Women for Hire.

For Chicagoan Sara Fisher, when she told her boss at Edelman, a public relations firm, that she was pregnant, the company was willing to tailor a work schedule around her changing lifestyle rather than let her leave the firm.

After she gave birth to her son, "I was supposed to come back after 12 weeks, but my boss let me take another month off," said Fisher, who writes about balancing motherhood and career on her blog, "Self Made Mom" and the "Chicago Moms Blog." "So I came back after four months, eased into projects and now I'm managing one of the largest accounts. I said I'd work three days a week or I wouldn't come back at all."

"The way I thought about it was I can either lose Sara or I can have somebody who is a fantastic employee for a few days a week," said Christopher Hannegan, who was Fisher's former boss at Edelman. "We needed to do what we could to make a flexible work arrangement."

Bloomberg LP, which is majority owned by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has denied the allegations in the sex discrimination complaint, saying they are without merit.

Bloomberg, a possible third-party candidate for president, suggested Thursday that his company is singled out because he is so well known.

"What's happening is, because I am so visible, it's obviously a target," he told The Associated Press. He said the accused should defend themselves when there is no wrongdoing, but that sometimes a settlement makes sense because "nuisance suits" drain away time and money.

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