What Yahoo's New CEO Tells Us About Pregnancy Discrimination

Marissa Mayer became the Chief Executive Officer of Yahoo after a distinguished career with Google. With her promotion, she became the twentieth woman to lead a Fortune 500 company and the youngest at 37 years of age. On the same day she became CEO, Ms. Mayer announced, through her Twitter account, that she is pregnant. Instantly, the media coverage shifted from Ms. Mayer’s vision for Yahoo to how Ms. Mayer would balance her new position, maternity leave, and having a young child. When asked about how the Yahoo board of directors responded to her disclosing her pregnancy, Ms. Mayer stated that “[The Board] showed their evolved thinking.” In this case, “evolved thinking” meant that they would not violate the law.

In 1978, Congress amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. In amending Title VII, the House of Representatives stated that “[t]he assumption that women will become pregnant and leave the labor force leads to the view of women as marginal workers, and is at the root of the discriminatory practices which keep women in low-paying and deadend jobs.” Ms. Mayer’s becoming CEO of a Fortune 500 company while pregnant evidences that much has changed since 1978. However, the media coverage of her pregnancy and her comment that Yahoo exhibited “evolved thinking” evidences that assumptions about pregnancy still impact the way pregnancy women are treated in the workforce.  Certainly, Ms. Mayer’s position at Google was not low-paying; however, the surprise and coverage of her pregnancy as a discussion topic evidences an underlying assumption that her career would “deadend” during her pregnancy.

Unfortunately, stories of careers advancing during pregnancy are still news. In 2011, the EEOC received 5,797 charges of pregnancy discrimination. (EEOC Statistics)  This is down only slightly from the all-time high of 6,285 in 2008. Needless to say, assumptions about pregnant women in the workplace still persist and lead to discrimination.  The attorneys at Baillon Thome are experienced pregnancy discrimination lawyers. If you have experienced employment discrimination because of your pregnancy, contact one of our lawyers.