“It was really traumatizing, literally the first few days of having this amazing, beautiful baby girl, I was in the hospital applying for a job,” she said.
She said she applied for the one-year contract and was interviewed, 15 days after her baby was born, but was told she didn’t get the job because of a question about interpersonal skills.
After a series of internal investigations, it decided to take the matter to the VCAT (Victoria Civil and Administrative Tribunal), which will go to mediation in February.
A Deakin spokesman said the university fully supported parental leave and provided a range of rights for primary carers and partners.
“Our goal is to provide staff with as much support as possible during the pregnancy, during leave, in the transition back to work, and in your continued capacity as a parent and valued member of the Deakin staff,” the spokesperson said.
They said it would be inappropriate to discuss the case because it was before VCAT.
Dalley believes that pregnancy discrimination is much more common than people realize. “I think it’s often done in a very naughty way; mysteriously, people’s contracts don’t get renewed.”
She said women often entered the industry of childbearing age, and she knew women who debated whether to delay having a baby, not disclose their pregnancy, or have a baby between contracts.
“It’s a really difficult time for women,” Dalley said.
Since then, she began working as a professor at the University of Melbourne, which she says helped her become a working mother to a young child.
Parenthood chief executive Georgie Dent said it was “very rare” for new parents to file formal pregnancy discrimination complaints because many didn’t sleep, had no confidence, time or money, or were embarrassed by the discrimination. “That’s why this topic hasn’t had so much time on the air. It’s easy for people to think it doesn’t happen. It is quite invisible. For other people, when it’s happening to them, it’s easy to think it’s just you,” she said.
A spokesman for the Australian Human Rights Commission said that while the number of pregnancy-related complaints it received was low, female employees who experienced discrimination could face a range of barriers that discouraged them from making complaints.
The complaints came mainly from white-collar workplaces, including the government, healthcare providers, and the real estate industry. None of the complaints in 2021-22 were from the education sector.
The national president of the National Union for Tertiary Education, Alison Barnes, said Deakin’s matter included serious allegations of discrimination affecting a hard-working academic who was courageous in taking her case. She said there were strong policies on gender and women in universities, but there could be a gap between rhetoric and reality.
She said the case also highlighted the difficulties for the two-thirds of university staff who had insecure jobs, which was a major factor in someone filing discrimination complaints.
“The fact that women are still dealing with pregnancy discrimination in 2023 is outrageous. People should be outraged that we have not eliminated this type of outrageous conduct in public institutions,” Barnes said.
The union seeks compensation for financial and economic losses; anguish and humiliation; and loss of reputation; and an apology from Deakin. According to the union, Deakin wrote to Dalley in July saying that she was not subject to any discrimination.
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