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I-Team investigates after pregnant woman is denied additional unemployment pay

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Posted at 6:53 AM, Sep 21, 2020

MILWAUKEE — When you fill out an unemployment form with the state, you need to be honest about whether you can work.

That can determine if you'll get paid.

Tasheena Metoxen of Milwaukee said she told the truth and said she couldn't work because she was pregnant and close to her due date. She said her honesty is what hurt her.

From the pictures she took at work, you can tell Metoxen was a proud employee at Potowatomi Hotel & Casino. Her pregnant belly also contributed to these smiles. She was expecting a baby boy in June.

But then COVID-19 hit and she was furloughed. Metoxen applied for unemployment and wrote in the comment section why she couldn't work.

"It was asking me why I couldn't find a job," Metoxen said.

"Well, I'm pregnant. Who is going to hire someone who is due in about a month or so?" she asked.

Metoxen said the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development put her case under review. She clarified with the state she could work all the way up to when she gave birth. Her unemployment pay was approved until then.

If Metoxen was still working at Potowatomi, she would have had six weeks of paid maternity leave. When she lost her job, her health and paid leave benefits went away. She hoped to fall back on those unemployment checks.

"If I never stated that I was pregnant, they would have never known and I would have been paid the full pay," said Metoxen.

"It does feel like discrimination because for them so say, 'nope we're not going to pay you for a full six weeks.' If my job told me that, I would have said 'OK, I will go back to work right away,'" Metoxen continued.

Metoxen has filed an appeal with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. The I-Team reached out to the state agency.

A spokesperson said it can't comment on pending appealed cases, however, provided the below statement:

Any claimant who loses their job should file for UI. However, under Federal and State law, in order to continue to be eligible for UI, all claimants must be able and available for work.

Depending on facts and circumstances, a person may also apply for PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance).

PUA is a temporary federal program that provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits to individuals who are not eligible for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) such as:

  • Individuals who are self-employed.
  • Certain independent contractors.
  • Individuals with limited recent work history.
  • Other workers not covered by Regular UI.

For more information on PUA, please visit https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/uiben/pua/

Outside of UI, DWD's Division of Employment and Training has resources for those who are unemployed get back into the workforce. Some resources include:

  • JobCenterofWisconsin.com (JCW) which is a free online portal that connects job seekers with employment opportunities throughout Wisconsin
  • Job training programs
  • Apprenticeships

For more information on resources to help job seekers, you can visit https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/det/jobseeker.html.

The I-Team asked DWD what penalties people face if they lie on an unemployment application.

A spokesperson said, "Investigations are done to determine whether an individual concealed information or made a mistake."

If the state agency determines fraud was committed, a spokesperson highlighted the penalties below:

  • Benefit Reduction – loss of future unemployment benefits from 2, 4 or 8 times your weekly benefit rate for each act of fraud. In addition, you will be assessed a penalty of 40% of your overpayment amount resulting from concealment, which you are required to pay out of pocket. You will be told the amount of the benefit reduction penalty on a determination (Form UCB-20) and the benefit reduction amount will remain in effect for weeks that become payable within 6 years after the date of the determination.
  • Court Fines - not less than $100 or more than $500 for each act of fraud (and a criminal record).
  • Jail - up to 90 days for each week of fraud (and a criminal record).

In addition to penalties, you must also repay any overpaid benefits.
Attorney Sunu Chandy is the Legal Director for the National Women's Law Center.

"It's a completely reasonable belief on her part. Why should I even bother to do this? We all know I am going to face pregnancy discrimination. It's so rampant," said Chandy.

Chandy said pregnant women are protected under the law and should apply to jobs knowing it's illegal for an employer to discriminate against them. She said Metoxen's case exposes other important conversations.

"It brings up a whole other host of work and family and balance and how the harm of that often falls on women," she continued.

"Perhaps you are available to work if there was childcare available or if there was a fixed schedule," Chandy said.

Metoxen has been staying home to take care of little Lionel who goes by Leo.

"Six weeks goes by so quick and it's a good bonding time for that newborn and mother," said the mother.

Metoxen plans to go back to work at Potowatomi once the right job opens up.

"Looking back, do you think, 'did I do the right thing?'" the I-Team's Kristin Byrne asked Metoxen.

"Yes, I question that now. I think I feel like I made a mistake. But, in my honesty, that's what actually hurt me the most," said Metoxen.

The I-Team contacted Potowatomi to comment on this case, but a spokesperson said the casino doesn't comment on individual personnel matters.

Metoxen has applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. That case is pending.

Lawmakers introduced a federal bill earlier this year called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. It would ensure employers across the country would provide pregnant women with reasonable accommodations in the workplace.

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