In employment law, the term “pregnancy discrimination” refers to when an employer behaves in a discriminatory manner towards an employee or job applicant who is pregnant, has or will give birth, or is suffering from any other medical condition associated with pregnancy and/or childbirth.

Essentially, the law forbids employers from discriminating against pregnant persons in regard to any aspect of employment, such as terminations, promotions, payments, and maternity leave. For instance, an employer may not layoff an employee simply because they are pregnant.

How Do I Know If I Have Been Discriminated Against Because of My Pregnancy?

Pregnancy discrimination claims are a bit different than some of the other types of workplace discrimination claims. For example, an employer who discriminates against an employee based on their race, is not only in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but also of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Thus, an employee has a constitutional right to be free from race-based discrimination.

In a pregnancy discrimination claim, however, the employee or job applicant will not be afforded any special rights, but the law does explicitly prohibit employers from being able to treat pregnant workers differently.

Thus, a worker may have been discriminated against due to their pregnancy when the timing of their termination is suspiciously linked to them telling their company they need to take leave, or if they have evidence showing that their pregnancy played a direct part in the decision of whether they received a promotion or not.

Aside from supporting evidence, in order to establish a case of pregnancy discrimination, the employee or job applicant generally must prove the following elements:

  • That they are member of the protected class in question (i.e., pregnant);
  • That they can sufficiently perform their job duties;
  • That their pregnancy led to negative job consequences (e.g., they were terminated, not hired, etc.); and
  • That those negative consequences were caused by a reason that implies pregnancy discrimination.

What Does the Pregnancy Discrimination Act Cover?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) is a federal law that was passed by Congress in 1978. Part of its purpose was to amend a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include a section that makes it illegal to discriminate against pregnant persons on the grounds of sex discrimination. In other words, pregnancy discrimination is considered a type of unlawful sex discrimination.

As discussed above, the PDA makes it illegal to discriminate against employees or job applicants who are pregnant, have or will give birth, or have some sort of medical condition related to pregnancy. Generally speaking, what this means is that an employer cannot terminate, refuse to hire or promote, or discriminate in any other way against an employee or job applicant because they are pregnant or due to a pregnancy-related complication.

In addition, the PDA also provides that employers must treat employees or job applicants who are pregnant or have an associated medical condition, the same as they would other similarly situated employees or job applicants, in their ability or inability to perform work-related tasks. For instance, an employer cannot refuse to hire a qualified job candidate just because they are pregnant or have a related medical condition.

It is important to note, however, that the PDA only applies to businesses that have 15 or more employees. There may also be different requirements for pregnancy discrimination claims
depending on the state.

Currently, only 27 states have enacted some form of pregnancy discrimination laws, and 23 states have abstained from implementing such laws. Thus, in states that do not have any of these laws, a person will only have a federal, not a state claim, for pregnancy discrimination.

Finally, another key detail to keep in mind about the PDA is that it presently does not apply to fathers or non-pregnant partners who want to sue for pregnancy discrimination. However, at least one judge has ruled that these parties can sue on the basis of sex discrimination, and many other courts and lawmakers are considering whether the PDA needs to be amended.

Thus, unless or until changes are made to the PDA, fathers, non-pregnant partners, and foster or adoptive parents, will have to show that their rights have been violated either via the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), or under a law known as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

What Should I Do If I Have Been Discriminated Because of My Pregnancy?

In the event that an employee or job applicant experiences pregnancy discrimination, it is important that they keep records of the incident, such as personal daily accounts of what occurred or documents that could be used as evidence.

For instance, if an employee has repeatedly been the victim of pregnancy discrimination and they sent an email notifying their human resources department, but the department did nothing to stop the discriminatory behavior, then the employee should preserve that email to use as evidence later on.

After gathering evidence and notifying human resources, the next step would be to either file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or the individual’s state administrative agency. The difference between the two is that the EEOC handles federal claims (or claims from one of the 23 states that do not have state pregnancy discrimination laws), and the latter manages state claims.

The individual should file their claim as soon as possible because they will only have 180 days to file a claim. In some cases, this deadline may be extended to 300 days, but certain factors must be present first.

Once the claim is filed, the EEOC will conduct an investigation regarding the claim. If the EEOC discovers that the employer committed a discriminatory act, then they will resolve the matter on their own with remedies, such as forcing the employer to change their company policies or providing some sort of resolution that is sufficient for the employee.

On the other hand, if the EEOC either cannot or does not find that a discriminatory act took place, then they will send the employee a specific document called, Notice of Right to Sue. This will permit the employee to take matters into their own hands by hiring a private lawyer and suing the employer in a court of law.

Do You Need Help from a Lawyer for Pregnancy Discrimination?

Anti-discrimination laws can often be very difficult to interpret. This challenge becomes even greater when there is a discrimination matter that requires the application of both state and federal rules. Consequently, this can make it harder for a person to understand how to properly file and argue their discrimination claim without the assistance of a lawyer.

Therefore, if you have any questions, concerns, or are involved in a dispute regarding a claim for pregnancy discrimination, then you may want to consider contacting a local employment lawyer or discrimination attorney as soon as possible.

Your lawyer will be able to determine whether or not you have a case, and if so, can help you gather documents to support your claim. A lawyer can also provide representation on your behalf during necessary court hearings or at settlement meetings, and can assist you with obtaining compensation for any losses resulting from an employer’s discriminatory conduct.