Christine Koh

Hello!

I'm Christine Koh, a music and brain neuroscientist turned multimedia creative. I'm the founder + editor of Boston Mamas, co-author of Minimalist Parenting, co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, and creative director at Women Online. Drop me a line; I'd love to chat about how we can work together!

Featured Mama Angelika Paul

angelikapaul1.JPGWelcome to Boston Mamas Rock! - where we're giving a voice to fabulous local mamas from all walks of life. Read on for today's interview with Angelika Paul, a mother of one (with #2 on the way) who founded FightPregnancyDiscrimination.org to help connect women with legal or other types of help to fight pregnancy discrimination.

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Angelika Paul, Founder, FightPregnancyDiscrimination.org

Christine: Welcome, Angelika. I'm really interested to share your story and your website FightPregnancyDiscrimination.org. One hour after returning from your 8-week maternity leave, you were demoted at work. What was the presented rationale behind the demotion? How did you respond? Did you leave the job immediately?

Angelika: The rationale for stripping me of my projects and support staff was that my performance had been bad during my pregnancy. I had a good performance review just before I got pregnant in March 2007. My performance did suffer during my pregnancy and I did attend a hospital for 2.5 weeks to treat major prenatal depression. (My doctor had written a note saying that I should return part-time from that disability leave, but during the first meeting with my boss he said that I should "come back 100% or not at all." I never brought up the doctor's note.) The departmental human resources representative was present during that first meeting after my maternity leave, but her sole contribution to the conversation was literally that if I didn't like the new situation I could take a compensation package and that I would be put on a performance improvement plan.

I did not leave the job immediately. I asked everyone in a position to help - to get me a transfer into another department. Everyone was very keen for me to switch and join their groups, but most said that since I had been put on a performance improvement plan, they could not do much. After 8 weeks of trying to do the best I could - my tasks had been reduced to what the least experienced member of my previous team had done as his job - my doctor again put me on short-term disability for major depression. After about 8 weeks, short-term disability stopped, since my health was much better not being in such a toxic work environment. I did not return to work and shortly after received a letter from my previous employer, saying that I had "abandoned the position."

Christine: The lawsuit is still pending; is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Angelika: The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) is currently investigating and will hopefully soon come back with an initial verdict of whether I have provided enough evidence for probable cause. After my initial complaint, MCAD sent a formal letter to my employer; they then had a few weeks to reply with a position statement on how they saw the case. I then sent in a rebuttal to their position statement. During the intake interview the MCAD officer said that proceedings could take up to 2 years. Usually the hope is that the employer will want to settle the case out of court, but in my case the same company has a class action suit against them for pregnancy discrimination and are unlikely to settle (and create a precedent).

Christine: My understanding is that in your local moms' group, about half the women have worried about their job security during pregnancy, and several have been fired because they had a baby. Is there a trend with these moms regarding what industry they were working in, or are there national trends that you are aware of?

Angelika: There are no trends that I have become aware of. It appears that in an economic downturn, pregnant women are especially easy targets for dismissal since their maternity leave is expensive for employers. Also, employers can claim economic hardship and women will have a much harder time trying to sue for pregnancy discrimination.

The women who do sue often appear to be professionals, as they are much more aware of their rights as an employee, and can afford legal advice. I would like to raise awareness of pregnancy discrimination to educate women about their rights and encourage them to file complaints if they feel they have been discriminated against.

Christine: You started FightPregnancyDiscrimination.org to help connect women with legal or other types of help to fight pregnancy discrimination. How are you facilitating these connections?

Angelika: Several women have contacted me through the website looking for help navigating their local complaints process. I have been able to send information on how the process works in several states.

I am also trying to raise awareness by contacting government officials and groups interested in women's civil rights and pre/postnatal depression. Recently, in response to my contact, the Womens' Bureau hosted a listening session at the Boston Library for women and their experiences at work during and after pregnancy.

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Christine: For your cause you are looking for lawyers who will take on pro bono cases and financial supporters to help pay legal fees, childcare costs for days in court, etc. Are you gaining any traction here? And are you going to set up some sort of application process and review board to evaluate the applicants?

Angelika: No volunteers so far, unfortunately. I'm a biology Ph.D. by training, so I'm in desperate need of volunteers who can help with marketing and website development, and help attract legal volunteers.

Christine: You are a Boston area mother but the site doesn't appear specifically geared towards Boston. Is the current plan to support Boston area mothers only, or are you trying to gain national traction?

Angelika: I'm trying to provide information and help to whoever needs it.

Christine: Are you currently working? And if so, does your employer know about your ongoing lawsuit?

Angelika: I am not currently in paid employment. I did a couple of interviews at other companies during the 8-week period after my maternity leave, but all implied that I would be expected to work weekends and some weeknights, which wasn't feasible for me and my family.

Christine: This is a challenging topic, one with a lot of negative energy around it. How do you try to stay positive and forward thinking about your mission?

Angelika: It is very hard. Every time I let my mind relax, I dwell on what happened, and yes, I do cry daily. It has been over a year, and I really hope things reach a conclusion soon, so that I can move on emotionally. I started the website to be proactive and positive. However, every time I work on it my stomach turns, so it's still a pretty mixed bag.

Christine: We've talked all serious up to now. Do you have anything personal, about your own interests and/or feelings about motherhood that you would like to share?

Angelika: Motherhood is infinitely harder and much more rewarding than any job I have had!

Christine: And finally, what's your favorite thing about being a Boston mama?

Angelika: The support of the other mothers!

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