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Working moms just got a big break-albeit a belated one. This October, under the terms of a consent decree, Verizon Communications Inc. agreed to give service credits to thousands of current and former female employees who took pregnancy or maternity leaves-some dating as far back as the mid-1960s. (Service credits are used to determine when employees are eligible for their pension and how much they will get.) This is one of the largest settlements ever on the issue, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (its New York district office brought the suit). The EEOC estimates that employees could receive benefits worth more than $10 million. Up to 12,500 women in New York, 12 other states, and the District of Columbia who worked for the New York-based company will receive service credit. Approved by Southern District of New York judge Denny Chin, the consent decree resolves suits brought by the EEOC in 1997 and 1999 against Bell Atlantic and NYNEX (now Verizon). From 1965 to 1979, the company failed to give service credit to female employees on pregnancy or maternity leave-but men on disability or in military service were given full credit. “We hope this settlement sends a message to employers that women cannot be penalized for leaves of absence related to pregnancy and child care,” says EEOC New York regional attorney Katherine Bissell. Verizon, however, maintains that its policies complied with the law at the time, says company spokeswoman Sharon Cohen-Hagan. The company settled the case, she says, because it did not want to drag out the litigation. She adds that the company considers the amount of the settlement nonmaterial. In fact, the company did begin changing its policy in 1978. At that time Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, making it illegal to fire, demote, or refuse to hire women because they are pregnant. Under the law, expectant and new mothers in the workforce are also entitled to the same benefits given to temporarily disabled employees. Indeed, Verizon’s policies toward women with children have come a long way. This year, Working Mother magazine named subsidiary Verizon Wireless one of the 100 best companies for working mothers. New York Law Journal

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