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Major Blog Won't Hire Pregnant Editor? Is this Legal?

By michellehorton |

Did you hear the one about the AOL blog that passed on promoting the pregnant editor? Presumably because she was pregnant?

That’s the word in the blogosphere. In case you missed it, there was major drama over at the AOL blogs recently — most specifically with TechCrunch, whose founder and editor Mike Arrington left the company after an ethical controversy. The position was filled, but not before considering Senior Editor Sarah Lacy who had all the qualifications, except she was away on four months maternity leave.

Bummer, was the final verdict from TechCrunch.

But wait — is that legal?

Jezebel looked further into whether not promoting someone while on maternity leave was a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. According to Ariela Migdal, a staff attorney in the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Projects, AOL could have been within their legal rights on this one. Although it could be that they were treating Sarah Lacy differently because of her maternity leave (which is a clear violation of the law), it also could mean that they were treating her like any other employee on an extended leave. And if they had to fill the position immediately, the reason for passing her over could be “absence,” not “maternity leave.”

Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center commented over at Jezebel that it’s illegal to pass over an employee just because it’s assumed that a working mother couldn’t handle (or wouldn’t want) the extra hours, extra stress, extra travel, etc. That’s discrimination. So if AOL assumed that Sarah Lacey wouldn’t be able to handle the extra work load with her new baby, that’s illegal. If they just needed someone to take Arrington’s position ASAP, then it’s legal to pass over someone who will be out of the office for such a large amount of time.

It’s kind of a non-issue because Sarah Lacey never even said that she wanted the position to begin with — but it’s an interesting point to bring up. It’s important to know your rights, ladies. Not hiring someone based on pregnancy is just as illegal as passing over someone based on their gender, religion or race — yet it’s still much more common.

Have you ever been the target of pregnancy discrimination? Do you think AOL was justified in passing over a pregnant editor?

Image: Steven Dressler via Jezebel

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About michellehorton



Michelle Horton is the founder of Early Mama, an award-winning site that proves young motherhood doesn’t have to define or limit us. When not writing, she’s typically pretending to be a superhero in her 4-year-old son’s imaginative play. Read bio and latest posts → Read Michelle's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Major Blog Won't Hire Pregnant Editor? Is this Legal?

  1. kiki says:

    I think if a company has a position they need to fill immediately (such as an editor), they’d be nuts to hire someone that definitely couldn’t start for a couple of months over someone that could start tomorrow, or even next week – regardless of sex or parental status. That person would be nuts to even apply for a job that required starting immediately, and shouldn’t be shocked if they’re turned down. Since in this case it doesn’t sound like Sarah applied for the position, or wanted it, the “controversy” seems a little contrived…

  2. michael arrington says:

    You have this exactly backwards. TechCrunch’s position until I left was to hold off on naming an editor in chief UNTIL Sarah returned from maternity leave so that she could be considered for the position. Until then existing editor Erick Schonfeld was to be interim editor. After I left Hufffington Post just named Erick the permanent editor. I have no idea what the considerations were at that point, but certainly Sarah couldn’t lead the team while away.

  3. Michelle Horton says:

    Kiki: the controversies and drama were much deeper than this, but I think Jezebel was just looking into what is and isn’t legal when it cones to maternity leave and promotion.

    Michael: thank you for clearing this up. We were just mentioning the Jezebel claims to start a discussion on what is and isn’t legal, since it’s clearly a grey area. But the statement released, published in the Jezebel article, did make it seem as though the maternity leave was a reason to not promote her – which is where the misunderstanding started. I’m very glad to hear otherwise.

  4. michael arrington says:

    yeah, the rumor started and spread and I was too busy to reply. It is an interesting question. A company shouldn’t discriminate in a situation like this. But on the other hand you can’t have an editor in chief who isn’t actually working, there’s no one to manage the team.

    On a side note, in the first couple of years at techcrunch there were only a few employees besides myself, and revenue just met payroll costs. If someone had left on maternity leave it would have killed the company if we had to keep paying her. It never happened, but it was a real concern since there were a couple of women on the team. Glad the situation never came up.

  5. kiki says:

    Michelle: perhaps you should have included the whole story in your post if you wanted comments to take that into consideration… otherwise, all we here have to go by is what’s above. :)

  6. Michelle Horton says:

    Kiki: I wanted to focus on the legality of maternity leave issues rather than drudge up the TechCrunch issues that have been circulating over the last few weeks, but we linked out to another article in the second paragraph for anyone who wanted to know more about the drama details.

  7. Mocosa says:

    I had pregnancy discrimination during a job working for the government. I was just hired and still under the 90 day probationary period. I was hospitalized due to a complication in my pregnancy and because that hospitalization made me miss more days than was allowed while being a probationary employee, they fired me. I was about 4 months pregnant by then, but I just ended up geting unemployment and using the time to finish my masters0 degree.

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