Have you chosen to build your family through surrogacy? Perhaps you know someone who is pursuing surrogacy to have a child. One challenge that intended parents face is the lack of understanding in the workplace when it comes to maternity leave and paternity leave. Often, intended parents are denied leave with barely a second thought.
The Real Problem
Infertility is a sad reality for many couples. Some couples are same-sex and do not have the same options for family-building, while other couples try over and over to achieve a viable pregnancy, without success. Still others suffer through diseases like cancer, whose treatment side effects result in infertility. No matter what the reason may be, surrogacy may be the only chance these couples have to build the family they want.
Should these couples be discriminated against, simply because they have to choose a different path to parenthood? The answer should be obvious; yet all too often, companies and employers show a marked difference in their treatment of intended parents.
A True Story
One woman, Marybeth Walz, worked for Verizon as an executive for 17 years. While employed by Verizon, Walz was diagnosed with cervical cancer, which required a hysterectomy. Prior to starting treatment for her cancer, Walz froze some of her eggs. In 2013, a gestational carrier, working with Walz, became pregnant with twin babies from Walz’s eggs and a sperm donor.
When Walz first mentioned her pending motherhood, Verizon’s human resources manager was warm and enthusiastic. As soon as Walz clarified that the babies were being carried by a surrogate, the manager’s attitude changed and she denied Walz paid leave after the babies’ birth.
The reasoning behind the decision came from the wording of Verizon’s short-term disability plans, which included the maternity leave policy. At the time, Verizon stated that moms are permitted maternity leave so that they can spend time bonding with their baby, whether the baby is born into the family or adopted. There was no wording about surrogacy arrangements.
Walz asked if she could use unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, due to the special circumstances of her case and her previous cancer. She even sold her house to afford several weeks’ of unpaid time with her newborns. Sadly, both babies died shortly after birth. Shocked and grieving, Walz then received news that she was being demoted to a lower-level position with Verizon.
The Strategic Approach
Walz isn’t the only one to face such discrimination. Kara Krill of Long Island filed a similar suit against her employer in 2011 after the company refused to give her maternity leave because of her surrogacy arrangement. Both Krill’s and Walz’s cases are complex, with a variety of people and factors involved— but both situations highlight the need to have an excellent surrogacy lawyer on your side.
If you are concerned about how your employer may react when you request paternity or maternity leave, talk to your assisted reproduction lawyer first. Ask about some strategies for notifying your employer and fully informing them about your situation. If you are denied at first, meet with your lawyer to discuss how you can bring legal precedents to the table and make your case more compelling. With the growing awareness for surrogates and intended parents, more companies may realize the need to include surrogacy in their maternity leave policies.
About Attorney Nicole K. White
As a mother by gestational surrogacy and as a surrogacy lawyer, my goal is to help you experience the joy and fulfillment of starting or growing a family of your own through third party reproduction. Because I am a mother by gestational surrogacy, I know firsthand what you will need – answers to your questions, support and guidance – and, I know what you will go through when starting your family. My experience as a surrogacy lawyer helps me guide you through the financial, emotional and legal aspects of surrogacy and third party reproduction. I can say with confidence that few (if any) attorneys deliver the unique insight I can bring to your surrogacy journey.