by Meredith O'Brien
If you’ve tuned in to Desperate Housewives  lately you’ve likely noticed that pregnancy discrimination has been played for laughs these days. Seriously.
It all started with the ABC drama’s season five finale  when fortysomething ad exec Lynette Scavo, mother of four whose husband has gone back to college, discovered she was pregnant. With twins.
As the sixth season commenced, Lynette was distinctly ambivalent about the surprise pregnancy. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to go forward with it and even refused to look at the monitor during her first ultrasound. She later confided in a friend saying that there was a little voice in her head saying “maybe I shouldn’t” do this. Once Lynette came to terms with the situation and decided to go forward with the pregnancy -- encouraged by her husband Tom’s enthusiasm – they informed their children and one of her teens quipped, “Aren’t you going to be, like, the world’s oldest mom?”
With that out of the way, Lynette decided to share the information with her boss, Carlos Solis, a neighbor and a friend who hired Lynette after the Scavo family pizzeria went out of business. Carlos and his wife Gaby had been pals with the Scavos for many years, seen one another through cancer, blindness, child-rearing and marital difficulties. But not, apparently, Lynette’s inconvenient pregnancy.
Before Lynette could tell Carlos her news, he announced, point-blank, that he’d just passed over another talented, female employee for a promotion because she was pregnant and instead offered the position to Lynette. Thrown, Lynette tentatively started to tell him about her own pregnancy until he said that the promotion came with a hefty, salary bump, something her family of six -- about to become eight -- desperately needed. So she held her tongue and said nothing. Meanwhile, she trained an underling and closed a big deal so that when the time came, she wouldn’t leave her boss -- her friend, her neighbor -- in the lurch.
Then he found out, not from Lynette, that she was pregnant. Feeling betrayed, Carlos viciously went after her. First, he said Lynette was being given a mandatory “promotion” to a post in their Florida office, knowing that she couldn’t and wouldn’t take it and he could fire her for refusing. He also moved Lynette’s office to a supply closet, saying they no longer had room for her in the main office space. The coup de grace came after Lynette -- who’d had enough of Carlos’ threats and the humiliation he was heaping upon her -- filed a discrimination lawsuit against Carlos. That’s when Carlos gave Lynette 48 hours worth of work and told her if it wasn’t done in 24 hours, Lynette, his friend, his neighbor, would be fired. She couldn’t get it done. And Carlos fired her.
Gaby, angered that Lynette hadn’t confided in her, initially encouraged Carlos to let Lynette have it and to go ahead with the Florida-promotion scheme. She actually had the nerve to tell Lynette that by getting pregnant she’d “let Carlos down,” as if the pregnancy was something that Lynette had done to Carlos, to purposely inconvenience him and hurt the business.
Gaby’s attitude softened for about a nanosecond after seeing Lynette cooped up in the closet of an office, and hardened again when the lawsuit papers arrived. “Lynette, you wanted to sue us, that proves that you are not my friend,” Gaby said angrily, because trying to force someone out of a job when that person is the sole breadwinner for a family of six also proves that you’re someone’s friend, right? Gaby went even further in the Christmas-themed episode , calling Lynette “an awful person” who’s going to go to hell for suing Carlos.
What bothers me about this entire storyline is that I don’t think there is a perfect way for a professional woman in this situation to handle the announcement of a pregnancy, especially when she knows the supervisor will penalize her for it. Had Lynette told Carlos about the pregnancy sooner rather than later, he wouldn’t have promoted her and would’ve given the higher wages to someone else, when Lynette’s family really needed the money. Lynette made arrangements to cover for her absence – establishing her dedication – but that, apparently, wasn’t enough.
I’m afraid that Carlos’ attitude is still prevalent and that when a woman gets pregnant, it’s thought that she’s “hurting” the company and letting down her co-workers. (Though I’ve never heard of anyone saying the same thing about a man when he becomes a dad.) There’s still a fear that employers will, behind the woman’s back, penalize her for gestating, like Carlos did when he told Lynette (before he knew she was pregnant) that he wasn’t promoting the person because she was pregnant, while, ironically, he has an at-home wife who takes cares of his two daughters. When people see dramatizations like this -- where a smart, competent woman who wants to keep her job is the victim of discrimination -- it makes you wonder how far women have actually come.