Maternity: A Job Hazard?

Karen Deonarain
When Karen Deonarain gave birth to a dangerously premature baby, she learned how hard things can be for a working mom. Especially if her boss sees "motherhood" as a liability.

"I was in the process of closing on the refinancing of my home, and the mortgage company told me they were notified by my job that I stopped working there," Deonarain told CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

"So, what were they accusing you of?" Attkisson asked.

"Just job abandonment," Deonarain said. She said she was stunned when she found that her boss had fired her from her claims processing job after she was out just three weeks, despite assurances her job was safe. She was fired while her baby was still in the hospital on a ventilator.

Until then, she says she'd gotten only glowing job reviews. She had even fielded work calls from the hospital.

Deonarain may have struck what some are calling "the Maternal Wall," when working women are suddenly viewed as poor employees with no future -- just because they become moms.

American University Law professor Joan Williams has identified more than a hundred cases where women facing "the Maternal Wall" have sued and won verdicts or settlements.

"One woman's supervisor looked straight at her belly — she was eight months pregnant — and said, 'I was going to make you head of the office, but look at you now,'" Williams said.

The goverment reports more than 70 percent of women now in the workforce have children under eighteen.

And with so many women now in the workforce, you might think the Maternal Wall would be on its way to becoming a thing of the past. Wrong. Most of the cases have been filed since 2000. She can identify 64 cases just since 2000.

Deonarain's former employer didn't answer our calls to explain why they gave her the axe. Even Williams admits many women simply are not as dedicated to their careers after they give birth.

So should women who clearly aren't performing as well as they used to, and are absent on the job because of their children, be treated just like they were before?

"I'm not defending any employee who doesn't do their job," Williams said. "What I'm saying is that employees may not make unjustified assumptions that every mom, that every woman, once she has a child, will not be a good worker."

Deonarain's daughter Razia is thriving at nine months. The same can't be said for her mom's career. Karen Deonarain is still looking for work and has filed a legal claim against her ex-boss. And now, she takes time to go on job interviews, but with one caveat.

"They don't ask; I don't tell," Deonarain said.

She's careful not to bring up the baby.