Randy Dickinson says the situation is disconcerting. (CBC)

The number of pregnancy-related discrimination complaints appears to be on the rise, according to the chairman of New Brunswick's Human Rights Commission.

It is one of the most common complaints the commission deals with, said Randy Dickinson, calling the situation disconcerting.

In the past year, the commission has received 141 inquiries from employees and employers and eight written complaints related to pregnancy, he said.

The cases range from employers refusing to hire someone who is pregnant, to employers no longer having a job for a women returning after a maternity leave.

"At least anecdotally it seems to be on the rise," Dickinson said on Wednesday, the eve of International Women’s Day.

"I know obviously we have more women in the workplace and particularly single women who are trying to raise children on their own, but I think it's also a situation where more women are becoming more aware of their rights."

'There are still a lot of people out there who don't have the competence or the education or the awareness of their own rights.' —Randy Dickinson, commission chairman

Still, more education is needed for both employees and employers, said Dickinson.

"More women are becoming more aware of their rights and the opportunity to seek assistance, but there are still a lot of people out there who don't have the competence or the education or the awareness of their own rights," he said.

"I think also, to be fair, there are a lot of employers that we get involved with that they just didn't know their obligations and once it was brought to their attention, they quickly rectified the situation."

Dickinson said it's sad pregnancy-related discrimination is still an issue for women in New Brunswick in 2012.

Not surprising


Patricia Donnelly successfully fought her position being eliminated while she was on maternity leave. (CBC)

But the figures came as no surprise to Patricia Donnelly, who worked as the marketing director for Kings Landing for eight years. She was on maternity leave two-and-a-half years ago after having twins when she received a letter.

"So I was breast feeding 17-week-old twins and reading a letter saying, 'You don't need to come back to work when your maternity leave is over, we've eliminated your marketing manager position.' So, shocked is probably an understatement," said Donnelly.

She was offered one month of work upon her return.

While scrambling to find another job, as her employment insurance benefits ran out, Donnelly decided to fight the decision. And after two years, the court ruled in her favour.

It said that a woman on parental leave basically has to be treated as if she is on the job. Donnelly was awarded eight months of severance.

"Many women have just told me anecdotally stories about not being treated fairly, but they didn't do anything about it because they were too busy with their children," she said.

The Human Rights Act was amended to explicitly prohibit pregnancy discrimination in 1992, including the possibility of pregnancy and circumstances related to pregnancy.

Pregnancy is defined in such a way that it runs from conception to the post-pregnancy period.

It includes medical complications, abortion, miscarriage, fertility treatment, family planning, and breastfeeding.

Poverty, domestic abuse, pay equity, and the conflict between work and family expectations also remain major concerns, according to the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission.