This afternoon, Buzzfeed Shift brings news of a pending discrimination lawsuit against French makeup giant Sisley Cosmetics that could turn out to be a very big deal.
In short, an employee returned from maternity leave to face questions about her future reproductive plans from managers who strongly implied that a second child “wouldn’t be good for her job” and all but threatened to make her “redundant” by eliminating her position. She also claims that her higher-ups increased her workload and that a less-than-sympathetic HR rep effectively told her “my hands are tied”. Six months after returning from a second maternity leave, she lost her job.
We don’t have all the details in this case, but the narrative as we know it paints Sisley as a company that views pregnant employees and mothers as liabilities. Perhaps more troubling is the fact that discrimination lawsuits are nothing new for this old-school Parisian brand: In 2011, a black employee who worked for the company’s Saks Fifth Avenue counter filed suit after claiming that her manager repeatedly used racial slurs when addressing her and complained about a lack of “blonde” sales reps. A third employee sued in 2009 after a boss forbid her from sitting down behind the cosmetics counter despite the fact that she’d just gone through a spinal surgery that limited her range of movement. Only the last case has been resolved.
A common thread runs through all three lawsuits: Employees reported their concerns to company officials and HR staffers, who did nothing. We’d say that Sisley’s managers need some sensitivity training, but the fact that the company ignored all three complaints hints at a bigger problem.
According to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, reports of pregnancy discrimination have increased considerably over the past few years. Earlier this fall, the EOEC cracked down on companies suspected of firing employees during maternity leave or immediately upon realizing that they were pregnant (in clear violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act).
Do some businesses still view pregnancy discrimination as acceptable behavior? Does the fashion/beauty industry’s culture encourage it?