On April 2nd, former Netflix executive Tania Zarak filed a lawsuit against her former employer, stating that Netflix discriminated against her for being pregnant and ultimately fired her because of it.
I don’t need to think twice about it: I believe Tania. Why? Because I’ve seen it happen.
I’ve never been pregnant, nor have I been discriminated against in the workplace or fired for being pregnant. That being said, I’ve worked at several different companies and I’ve seen women on maternity leave get “let go” twice.
While I’m outraged and saddened that Tania went through this unjust discrimination, the silver lining is that a woman is finally speaking out about pregnancy and maternity leave discrimination.
If you think there are laws in place to protect pregnant women in the workplace; if you think there is legislation to preserve women’s positions while they’re on maternity leave; if you think that it’s 2019 and pregnancy discrimination is not a real, active thing, then you need to listen to Tania Zarak’s story.
The lawsuit states that Tania started working for Netflix in 2018. She worked as a manager at Netflix’s International Originals department before announcing in November that she was pregnant.
Tania claims that after telling the company she was pregnant, her supervisor Fransisco Ramos excluded her from meetings, removed her from a project, and even went as far as to degrade her appearance. Tania also claims that when she informed Ramos she planned to take maternity leave, he became “visibly annoyed.” Tania took her complaint to human resources the following month. She was then fired.
According to her suit, Tania is claiming she “suffered and continues to suffer humiliation, emotional distress, and mental and physical pain and anguish” from the incidents. Netflix instilled its own year-long parental leave policy, granting both fathers and mothers the right to take a year off from work after bringing a new child into the family. But the suit alleges that Netflix “secretly retaliates” against employees who take them up on the offer.
As you can see, merely being offered parental leave is not enough. The current rules and laws we have in place to protect pregnant women and employees on parental leave don’t do enough. Discrimination still exists.
Discrimination still happens despite the preventative measures we put in place.
You may know that it’s illegal to fire an employee while they are on maternity leave (or parental leave). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or employee because of their pregnancy (among other things). This applies to hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits.
The Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Family and Medical Leave Act, and Pregnancy Discrimination Act are all in place to ensure these kinds of discrimination does not occur.
But it still happens.
How? Because there are loads of loopholes and companies looking to cut costs (and corners) know just how to find them.
Companies may not be legally allowed to fire an employee while on leave, but they can dissolve their position. That’s one such loophole.
Ryan Park, a lawyer at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP in Washington, D.C. told Business Insider,
“Under these and other laws, an employer can fire an employee while they are on parental leave or pregnant, but they cannot fire an employee because they are on parental leave or pregnant.”
You can be fired (while on leave) if you commit a fireable offense, your role or department was eliminated, or the company doled out mass layoffs.
I’ve seen that happen in my industry twice. Both women were in high-up positions at the company, got pregnant, and when they went on maternity leave, were informed their roles were no longer necessary.
Instead of bringing these employees back when they were ready to return, the company handed their responsibilities to someone else and paid them more. It still cost less than paying two people two competitive salaries.
And it’s bullshit.
That kind of corporate behavior teaches women to fear pregnancy. It tells them to push their family-planning back further and further, that it doesn’t matter how high they climb the corporate ladder, they should still worry about losing their jobs when they become parents. It tells women you have to choose: Do you want to be successful at work or do you need to have a family? It tells women we can’t have both.
In the specific case of Tania — and sadly, it’s hardly the only case of such discrimination — a spokesperson from Netflix responded to the accusations,
“We have previously looked into these claims and determined they were unfounded. Netflix works hard to ensure that employees with families, or who are starting a family, have the flexibility and support they need.”
That might be the official stance of the higher-ups at Netflix, but that doesn’t mean it’s enforced at every level. It doesn’t mean Fransisco Ramos enforced those policies and it certainly doesn’t mean that Fransisco Ramos didn’t deride Tania for her appearance, exclude her from meetings, and/or remove her from her projects.
Netflix needs to do better, as do all companies. Tania Zarak deserved better. We all do.
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Steph Osmanski is a freelance writer and social media consultant who specializes in health and wellness content. Her words have appeared in Seventeen, Life & Style, Darling Magazine, and more. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Stony Brook Southampton and writing a memoir.