Eight Chicago public elementary school teachers who said they were fired or forced to leave because of pregnancies will receive a combined $280,000 in back pay and damages, under a settlement announced by the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday. This settlement has taken six years to come to fruition, as teachers who were pregnant or breastfeeding allegedly began to experience discrimination at Scammon Elementary School in 2009.
As difficult as it is to believe that pregnancy and breastfeeding discrimination would be a real problem in an urban area, in a demographic of persons who are most likely to be of childbearing age, teachers claim that is exactly what happened when they announced their pregnancies, began to show, or returned to work while breastfeeding and breastpumping for the their infant babies.
The DOJ lawsuit, filed against the Chicago Board of Education last December, alleged that starting in 2009, Scammon Elementary School Principal Mary Weaver subjected female teachers to lower performance evaluations and discipline because of their pregnancies, when they had received stellar performance evaluations in the past, prior to their pregnancies, according to Yahoo.
The school system is already facing financial difficulty. The district, which serves about 400,000 students at more than 600 schools in the third-largest U.S. city, many of them impoverished and underserved, faces a $1.1 billion structural deficit. Teachers voted last week to authorize a strike next year if union officials in contract negotiations deem it necessary and progress is not made with some of these issues.
As for pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, it is sadly not uncommon. According to the Chicago Tribune, Weaver subjected pregnant teachers “to disparate treatment with regard to performance evaluation ratings” and other work performance-related matters, and “there existed a regular, purposeful, and less-favorable treatment of teachers because of their sex (pregnancies),” according to the December 2014 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
The settlement, which must be approved by the Northern Illinois U.S. District Court, requires the board to change personnel policies to protect all employees against discrimination on the basis of sex and pregnancy and establish training requirements for supervisors and staff about issues that arise due to pregnancy and breastfeeding and how they must be fairly treated. Although the board did not admit any wrongdoing, a CPS spokesperson, Emily Bittner, gave a statement on the school system’s stance.
“Chicago Public Schools is fully committed to promoting inclusive work environments free of discrimination or mistreatment. We are taking steps to bolster training and policy awareness to ensure every school and office in CPS is a welcoming environment.”
Weaver, who won a Chicago Public Schools principal achievement award in 2013, apparently had a big issue with pregnant teachers. The lawsuit stated she made negative comments to and about pregnant Scammon teachers, and also to a teacher who had given birth and was expressing breast milk as is protected by federal law.
Although teachers are under no binding contract to announce their pregnancies, she responded to one teacher’s pregnancy announcement by stating, “I can’t believe you are doing this to me. You are going to be out right before (mandatory) testing,” according to documents. She also allegedly made disparaging comments to teachers who were pumping breast milk at lunch or on breaks, saying, “Isn’t that over yet?” and “Isn’t that going on a little long?”
It was at this point when teachers began to notice their evaluations went from excellent to horrible, and some left the workplace as a result of the hostile discriminatory environment. Julianne Bowman, director of the Chicago District of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigated the charges of discrimination, says that the treatment of the teachers was completely unacceptable.
“That a public school engaged in a pattern of firing teachers because of their pregnancies is dismaying to say the least.”
[Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images]