"I was Fired for Being Pregnant"
I stood in front of my general manager, with my knees shaking in anticipation. Finally the torment of the last few weeks was coming to an end. "Jill", she said my name, as if it was a nasty cough medicine, "your performance has not improved after all", my heart began to sink. I had worked so hard, two days ago she was praising me, but now we were having a different conversation, "therefore we have no choice but to let you go". It was a true slap in the face, a rude awakening. I was being fired, but not for the lack of my performance, rather for the fact that I was pregnant.
My New Job
Let me backup. About three months prior to that moment, I had landed my dream job. I was working as a professional marketer for a great company and was headhunted to work as a marketing manager for a retirement home. I had always wanted to work with seniors so this was a great fit. The retirement home had promised me the moon and the stars, and eventually I left my secure and adventurous job for this new opportunity.
In my first week on the job, the Director of Marketing had told me in a joking manner “don’t get pregnant anytime soon, we need you around for a while.” I had smiled, and really did not think anything of it. My husband and I were married for a few years at that point, and I knew that a pregnancy was on the horizon, but I had never thought to take this joke seriously.
For the first two and half months I was really enjoying my job, interacting with the residents and receiving wonderful feedback on my performance. I was quite grateful for my professional life, as well as for the new discovery that my husband and I were going to be parents. It all sort of happened at once, and suddenly people started gossiping that I may be pregnant. I was so nervous about actually announcing it, but knew that I had to be honest, and so I bit the bullet and came clean to the general manager and my direct supervisor.
The Harassment Begins
A week after my pregnancy announcement, I was called into the GM’s office and was yelled at and spoken down to, and told that my work was below par and that my “passion and enthusiasm” for my job were lacking. This came as a complete shock. The GM kept saying that she was sick and tired of telling me over and over again that my work was wrong, even though this was the first time any of such issues were raised about my work performance.
The next day I was presented with a warning letter outlining all the “issues” the GM had with me. I read the letter over, confused and dumbstruck. "You have to sign this right away!" she stated, trying to pressure me to sign it immediately. I refused. I told her I wouldn't sign anything without taking it home and reviewing it. All the joy that women feel when they discover they were pregnant, was being taken away from me. I suddenly was losing all of my confidence and started feeling great anxiety and depression over my new job, and for a brief moment had actually questioned whether my performance had been deteriorating. However, once I had received this letter in hand and was being bullied to sign this document without even being given a chance to go over it, I quickly I smartened up. I realized this was all a ploy to get rid of a pregnant woman.
That night, I called the recruiter that found me this job and told her about the letter and what had happened. She was in complete shock. She had informed me that she had just recently phoned the company for a progress update, to see if her clients were happy with me. Well interestingly enough they were thrilled with my performance and me. So what sudden changes could have occurred within a two week time span? My pregnancy.
From Bad to Worse
The next three weeks were absolute hell. They were obviously trying to make me quit by treating me with disrespect, making me work crazy hours and long days and loading my work up to unreasonable expectations.
The GM had started to make me report directly to her and had me work twelve consecutive days straight. On day nine of the consecutive work schedule, I finally had enough and begged for a day off due to the fact that I was pregnant and could not manage this type of insane schedule. This was in fact a violation of the Human Rights Code, where the employer has to reasonably accommodate a pregnant woman. I have to mention that I was pressured to work this type of schedule only after I had announced my pregnancy and was made to feel inadequate by my supervisor when I complained.
They kept me so incredibly busy by piling on my workload that I was working twelve hours per day and nearly collapsed. They had also made me do remedial work that was beneath my skills and took away my primary responsibilities. And when I would take a bathroom break, the GM would find me and then tell me to stay in my office. She would slam my door shut and then would lock me in. This was so disturbing that I couldn’t help but cry on a daily basis. I felt like I was in a prison and punished for a crime I did not commit.
Everyday the GM would demand to have that warning letter back and signed, threatening me to no avail. I outright refused and let her know that I did not agree with the statements outlined in the letter. “I don’t care if you agree or disagree, I want that letter back signed,” she said. By this point, I was taking no chances, and had begun to record all of the conversations between the GM and myself onto my iPhone and had this bit saved as evidence should it ever escalate to that. I also knew enough not to sign anything I did not agree with and would not cave to her constant bullying and pressure.
By the third week, the GM informed me that my performance had improved by 150% and that she was proud of all my hard work, the past few weeks. I was surprised, and almost hopeful that maybe this was the beginning of a turn around, but it wasn't. Two days following this conversation, I was called into the GM’s office where I was informed that my performance had not improved and that I was being terminated from the retirement home. At this point they tried to force me to sign a termination letter, which I declined to do at that moment, but promised to return it signed the next day after I had read over it.
The termination letter was written completely one-sided and offered no consideration in exchange for my signing it. The letter stated that I would be waiving my rights to sue the retirement home for any negligence and discrimination. There was no way in hell that I was going to sign that!
Taking Legal Action
The day I was fired, I phoned an employment lawyer that my husband, who has a familiarity with the law, recommended because of his reputation as a bulldog. At my first meeting with the lawyer he said that this was a smaller case than he had expected and that he would take it on as a favor to my husband. I outlined my situation clearly for our lawyer and gave him all the supporting documentation and how to proceed. Every time the retirement home would offer us a settlement, it was pathetically low and we refused it. However our lawyer was constantly encouraging us to take whatever they offered. It went as far as him agreeing to take an offer pending our approval, which we did not accept. Settlement discussions stopped and we were going to mediation at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. We decided a few days before mediation that we should no longer retain our lawyer because he genuinely didn’t care about my case. So instead, my husband and I went to the OHRT on our own.
During mediation, it was just my husband and I that had attended. I actually wanted to bypass this entire phase and go directly to the Human Rights Tribunal, but this was one step that we could not skip. When we arrived we informed the retirement home and their lawyer that we no longer are incurring legal fees and are more than happy to take this directly to the tribunal if our demands aren’t met. Finally the resolution was in our favor and we received what we had asked for. We won, they blinked
My Words of Wisdom
Upon signing the settlement, I was bound legally from mentioning the name of my employer or the company. To be honest I had struggled with making the decision to write this article, however I feel that my experience should be shared and learned from by other women. I am sure that I am not the only person that had or will have, this happen to, and therefore I would like to leave you with a few words of wisdom that I have discovered through this experience, to prevent and aid women from having to go through what I had gone through:
Here are some Resources that have been outlined in the article: