Crouching Tiger, Hidden Pregnancy

Last year, one of our senior lawyers returned after a year of maternity leave. She returned working part time, three days a week. As most of us Big Firm lawyers are aware, “part time” is a misnomer that does not really exist, which means she regularly finds herself working on her days off. The advantage for her is that her budgets are set based on a three-day workweek. So, with a bit of ‘overhang’ work on her non-work days (which she does usually from home), she is now easily able to make and exceed her budget without really raising much of a sweat.

About four months out from the end of financial year, this senior lawyer began the process of applying for a promotion to Senior Associate. As we were in the throes of a global financial crisis, everyone’s budgets had taken a hammering, and as a result, she looked like a shining star compared to the rest of us.

After the arduous months of report writing and interviews with senior partners and corporate managers, she was the recipient of one of only eight nationwide promotions last year.

However, one day after her promotion (and pay raise) was confirmed by the firm, she announced that she was 28-weeks pregnant. In other words, she knew she was pregnant the whole time she went through the process and stayed silent, knowing that a few short months after her promotion she would again be taking another year off.

She is due to come back in a few months and is currently trying to get her three-day-a-week schedule reduced down to two. She is a excellent example of someone who has managed (somehow) to twist the firm’s (overly generous) maternity leave and promotion policy to her maximum advantage.

I am really pissed because of the simple fact that she would not have been promoted if she had been working fulltime. And she certainly would not have been promoted if it were known that she was pregnant during the selection process last year.

The situation as it stands now affects me in several ways: First, I am the one who has had to pick up the slack for her during her maternity leave. Secondly, my hard work my own non-existent pay raise and bonus has effectively been paid to her while she sits at home. It further affects me because I am next in line for promotion in our team.  Significant pressure has been placed on our team’s budget as a result of paying her out when she hasn’t been working. Despite the fact that I am performing well and easily making my budget, it is very unlikely I will be promoted this year as a result.

Basically, this is just a Bitter Rant. I am angry at her for concealing her pregnancy, and I am angry that she seems to be able to work the system well enough to maximize advantages for herself from the firm’s policies—even if it comes at the expense of other people in the office.

At the end of the day, I guess she has to be applauded for her cunningness and getting ‘one up’ on wily BigLaw, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be pissed. Screw her. Screw the firm.

  • Alma Federer

    Stop bashing this woman.  In this male-dominated law society, it is very diffcult for women, particularly those trying to balance work and a family.  This woman obviously is capable of doing both.  I hope to be able to do EXACTLY the same thing, but as with this woman, who has had at least 2 children, I also expect to be put down.  It has always been the case that beautiful women are looked at and objectified by others who do not have their looks or ability.  I had this problem in high school, in college, law school, and now at work, so I am used to it.  I just have to remember and repeat my father’s statement that “I am worth it” and “not to settle for mediocrity”.  It is that philosophy that has kept me going and achieving all that I have so far.  I hope to be able to have everything, including continuing success at work, as well as a nice family and home in the suburbs.  Why can’t people stop looking down on others that are just pursuing the American dream?

  • Alma Federer

    Oh, I forgot.  Guess What–the firm must have known all along she was pregnant.  Unless she was big as a horse to begin with, no woman lawyer can go for 28 weeks (7 months) being pregnant without EVERYONE noticing (other than this supposedly surprized bitter writer).  It was not a SECRET, dummy.  Everyone knew she was pregnant.  Maybe even you too.  She’s just smarter then you, and that’s what you’re so bitter about.  You give yourself away at the end.  You men just can’t agree that we women are smarter then you.  Well get over it, we can be smart and beautiful, so there. Fooey on you jealous men!

  • Anonymous

    Alma – try not to talk down to people about intelligence while improperly using “then” instead of “than” twice in your post.

  • Juris Depravis

    1. You still have a job. Shut your cake hole. 2. Minus 13 Internets for using “At the end of the day,” in your post.

  • Craig

    Nice rant.  That would annoy me too but not much you can do about it.

  • young Fogy

    Sad to say, but Alma’s unenlightening “fooey” rant aside, long periods of time away from work are why male lawyers are secretly reluctant to entrust major clients or projects to women.  Likely pregnancies are too.  OK I said it. Tell me I am wrong. Drown me with plattitudes and meaningless bromides about “equality,” and “sexism.” The fact remains that even with a lot of work at home on maternity leave which most women do not do (and who expects them to with a new child?), lawyers away for 6-9 months are not as on top of things as lawyers that are at meetings, on the phone and at work during that time.  Anyone needing this woman’s feedback and attentiveness in the next year will be sorely disappointed. Lawyers picking up the slack for her -even Alma–are subsidizing her pregnancy and time off. She sleeps in and coos to her child: they are at work. Society benefits generally from the child, and everyone loves kids, but no court will give a law firm a break in a malpractice case because the lawyer was pregnant; corporate clients cannot pin big deals on someone at home.  Big litigation invests heavily in key lawyers: when one has to peel off for 9 months, its a killer.  Concealing a pregnancy may be smart, legal and to this woman’s advantage, but its no different in effect than if a man said he was taking 6 months off to enter competitive surfing lessons, but would work sometimes from home. If a man did that, he’d be fired. If a man elected to take a 9 month sabbatical every two years he’d be sidetracked into permanent associatedom if that.  Don’t get me entirely wrong: Its morally and legally wrong to fire or penalize anyone for having a kid. I love kids (some of my best friends are kids).  And we probably need more educated women to have kids.  And I like single mothers.  But society does not lessen the impact for those back at work for whom the impact of her absence is the same. This woman knew it. She played on the expectations that she was on the team and there for the work. Then she switched, knowing that the law forced everyone at work to underwrite her choice. Unfair. Unprofessional. And no, I don’t have any bright ideas about how to rectify the impact.  No, I am not suggesting that women not enter professions, or that they be treated as second class citizens.  I am simply noting the reality of maternity for those still at work–women and men.

  • Mom in the workplace

    Anyone who thinks maternity leave is about sleeping in and cooing to their child has never had children.

  • young Fogy

    Mom: So maternity leave is hell?  Tell me I’m wrong, but I have the dictinct impression that given the choice, moms prefer to stay home rather than work. Pushing kids in a stroller in the sunshine, sipping a cappucino when kiddo is napping–or napping while kids are at school as they get older-beats the rasping demands of an intolerant partner, phone call s from demanding clients and stale office air at 800 p.m. Plus you miss the point: the impact on people at wok expected to absorb this time off is a major imposition. A “time transfer” from her to them.

  • Quadoz

    The maternity leave situation sounds difficult to the writer.. BUT, the woman on maternity leave has beaten the system and used it to her advantage.  F.T.S.  I respect that.

  • Magic Circle Jerk

    Alma- as always, STFU.  You are a pathetic joke.
    OP- Think about it this way: Look at all the fucking idiots and disgusting poors breeding out there.  They live off my tax dollars and pop puppies out like a conveyor belt.  That being said, I’m happy to subsidize my female biglaw colleagues efforts at reproduction in order to better the human race.  Sure it means hardwork, but it’s better spent than my taxes.

  • guest

    I’d be completely furious with this woman too… But the thing is, she’s shot herself in the foot career-wise.  She may have gotten the promotion this time, but the partners are going to know that they can’t trust her and she’ll likely never get decent work again.  I certainly wouldn’t.  She may have screwed the system once – but she’ll never get to again.

  • Friend

    Magic I agree with you.  Possibly look at the situation this way, someday this promoted chick may help you out if you ever get sick.  Life is better than movies.  But it does tick you off, but your frustration will pass

  • PseudoPartner

    It’s a short-term gaming of “the system.” She is out of the loop and that hurts a legal career long term.
    Any dad can opt to take FMLA, too.  Ever seen a male big law associate take advantage of that opportunity?

  • BL1Y

    Of course she’s hurt her long-term career, but it doesn’t matter, because odds are she isn’t concerned about her long-term career.  She has two kids and a very sweet part time job.  Her plan is almost certainly to take every easy penny she can from the firm until they let her go, and then just be a full time mom.  Firms need to start making their employees sign an agreement that they will return to work full time for a certain length after taking maternity leave or else return the money they were paid, just the same as you have to give back a signing bonus or salary advance if you quit too soon.

  • Bitter Senior Associate

    This is the dumbest post I ever read.  Imagine that woman had cancer and was out for a year, started back part-time and then had a remission but didn’t say anything until she got her promotion.  Then she announced her medical leave for the next year.  Would you be saying the same thing? 
    Think of kids as a medical disability —because they are.  They are milk-sucking parasites, no doubt about it.  But, kids are a fact of life.  While it is unfortunate that only women can have children, what you should be questioning is why men are not encouraged to spend that year (or even six months) home with their newborn child.  I’ll tell you why:  taking care of kids is a HARD job and men don’t breastfeed. 
    If you think staying home with two kids is a day in the park, come spend one day with me on my so-called “days off.” You will soon realize that it is more aptly called my “second job.” So Why do I do part time?  Because the thought of seeing my children on the occasional weekend that I’m not working is sickening.  I work part-time so I can work a regular 40-hour workweek.  Sad, but true.

  • Bitter Senior Associate

    Also, if this “dude” was really picking up any of her slack, he’d be making his hours and she wouldn’t be exceeding hers.  Sounds to me like this female Senior Associate is the real deal, deserved the promotion, and the firm has a long-term interest in keeping her around during this two-to-three year stint of motherhood.  And if he actually thinks that her leave is coming out of his department’s budget intead of overhead, he really doesn’t deserve a promotion.  It’s being paid for by all of her hard work for the past seven-eight years.

  • Budget setter

    I read the article and would be very annoyed at the dishonesty of the employee.  Her honesty upfront would have allowed a new scenario to take place. It would also allow an honest reflection of budgets.  We are entitled to have a family and promotions, but not at the expense of other employees.  I truly believe the pressure on the other members of the group has increased and the inability to now employ somebody in a senior position who will clearly bring more benefit to the group would have been a more satisfying result.

  • Anonymous in SF

    Ugh.  I would be pissed too.  Just another example my dear that life is not fair.  It is a dog eat dog world, and that is just the reality.  Best of luck.

  • Pregnant lawyer

    You say yourself she wouldn’t have gotten a promotion if the firm would have known she was pregnant. If everyone knows that pregnant women will be discriminated against, then of course she would hide the source of discrimination.

    Further, I’m sure if she’s working part time, she’s making a part time salary. A part time salary when working full time hours! Sounds like this woman deserved her promotion to me.