I prepared and served food as a line worker at a Mexican fast food restaurant in Washington, DC. I was a good worker and liked my job. My performance reviews described me as one of the employees who would naturally move up the ranks at the restaurant.
As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I told my boss. When he expressed concern that I might have to stop working, I told him that I felt great and wanted to stay on the job. But as soon as I started to use the bathroom more frequently because of pregnancy, I noticed a sudden change in my boss. One afternoon when I returned from the bathroom, he yelled at me in front of all the customers and my coworkers. He asked me, “Where were you?” I turned red and returned to the line, where I worked more slowly because I was frustrated and embarrassed.
Then things got worse. My boss said that from now on I’d need to get his permission whenever I wanted to use the bathroom and also tell all my coworkers. So several times a day I’d have to track him down and then let my coworkers know. I felt so humiliated. My boss sometimes said that I couldn’t go to the bathroom. All of my coworkers were allowed to go to the bathroom as often as they wanted without ever asking for permission. I never had to ask permission to go to the bathroom before I got pregnant either, so I felt that I was being singled out and punished just because I was pregnant. I told my boss I thought this was wrong, but he simply ignored my complaints and continued to mistreat me.
My coworkers and I had a 15-minute break during each of our four-hour shifts. I began eating snacks during my breaks because I was hungrier than usual as a result of my pregnancy. When my boss heard about my snacks, he prevented me from taking these breaks even though I explained to him I needed to eat more frequently because I was pregnant. My boss also told me I wasn’t allowed to drink water when I was in the line. I followed this new rule, but I couldn’t understand why this was happening. My coworkers drank water in the line without being disciplined. I also hadn’t been treated this way before I got pregnant.
One day I asked my boss for permission to leave early to go to a prenatal doctor’s appointment later that week. Before I got pregnant, if there was a day I had to leave early or go to a doctor’s appointment, I was always able to work it out with my boss, even if I told him about it the same day. This time when I asked, my boss never got back to me. On the morning of the appointment, I reminded my coworkers that I’d be leaving early for my appointment. My boss overheard this and threatened to fire me if I left. I apologized to him for having to leave, but this was an important appointment that I couldn’t miss. I had been feeling bad the week before so I really needed to see the doctor.
That afternoon my doctor gave me a note to pass on to my boss, saying that I would need more frequent access to water and the bathroom for the rest of my pregnancy. When I returned to work the next morning, my boss fired me in front of my colleagues before I even had time to give him the note. He spoke very quickly in English—my native language is Spanish and he would normally speak to me in Spanish—and told me I didn’t have the right qualities to be an employee there and that I wasn’t giving “100 percent.” As far as I know, I was the only person he fired publicly. I was crying. My direct supervisor said to me in Spanish, “Thank you for all you’ve done here.”
This incident devastated me. Now I wouldn’t be able to bring any money into the family. For the first time in my life, I had to ask for government assistance (food stamps and unemployment benefits). I tried to look for other work, but every time I went to a potential employer, they looked at my belly and said “no.” My husband, who was not working at the time, my older child, and my baby paid the price.
With the assistance of counsel, Guadalupe Hernandez filed an EEOC charge, asserting that she was terminated because of her pregnancy, which is expressly prohibited under Title VII. Guadalupe’s claim is pending and is under investigation at the moment. She gave birth in May of 2012 and is now studying to improve her English. She is not working.
*Name and identifying details changed at worker’s request.
It Shouldn’t Be a Heavy Lift: Fair Treatment for Pregnant Workers, a report from A Better Balance and the National Women’s Law Center, features this and other stories of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Click here to read the other stories and learn more.