Tina Varlesi, a former graduate student at Wayne State University, just battled and won $850,000 for pregnancy discrimination.
While enrolled in a masters program at Wayne State in 2008, Varlesi had an internship with the Salvation Army and worked at its rehabilitation center on campus. During her internship, she was told by her supervisor that she needed “to stop rubbing her belly and to wear looser clothing to prevent the men at the rehab center from being ‘turned on by her pregnancy,’” according to ThinkProgress.
“Her supervisor also gave her many instructions about how she should behave during her pregnancy, telling her when she should drive, asking her probing questions about whether she was married, and telling her that men at the rehab center ‘can look but they cannot touch.’”
The supervisor’s behavior and language, as disgusting and sexist as it is, is unfortunately an experience all-too-common for many pregnant women.
Varlesi filed a complaint with the university administrators, who advocated on behalf of the supervisor and suggested she follow his requests. At the end of her internship, she earned a failing grade, which meant she was unable to graduate from the masters program in which she was enrolled.
Varlesi sued the university and won the original lawsuit, but Wayne State filed an appeal with the U.S. District Court of Appeals, which upheld the original ruling on Monday. (Varlesi also settled separately with the Salvation Army.)
Deborah Gordon, Varlesi’s attorney, claimed that, “[Varlesi] lost a whole career. They (Wayne State) didn't care about the discrimination. They let it happen. They backed up (those who were discriminating) and assured Tina couldn't graduate," according to the Detroit Free Press.
Pregnancy discrimination is a quite common occurrence, yet not discussed very often; in 2015, teachers sued an entire school district in Chicago for giving lower performance evaluations while teachers were pregnant. In 2015, over 3,500 complaints of pregnancy discrimination were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
At the very least, rulings such as Varlesi’s are a step in the right direction.