What Does Pregnancy Discrimination Look Like at Work?
Although pregnancy discrimination is illegal in American workplaces under federal law, sadly, many women face discrimination on the basis of motherhood. In fact, the United States Census Bureau reports that women today are working longer while pregnant and returning to work sooner than ever before.
Today, women make up approximately half of the U.S. workforce. Of these female employees, 85% will become mothers during their chosen careers, making pregnancy discrimination in the workplace deserving of national attention.
What Laws Protect Against Pregnancy Discrimination?
Currently, 2 federal laws protect pregnant women against discrimination in the workplace:
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), prohibits sex discrimination in the workplace, including pregnancy discrimination. This federal law protects women on the basis of:
- Current pregnancy
- Past pregnancy
- Potential pregnancy
- Any medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth (such as breastfeeding or lactation)
- Having or choosing not to have an abortion
Keep in mind that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act only covers workplaces with a minimum of 15 employees. If your organization is smaller than 15 workers, be sure to consult with your regional Department of Labor Women’s Bureau to find resources to assist you.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prevents discrimination against an applicant or employee on the basis of a disability. While pregnancy alone isn’t considered a disability under the ADA, associated impairments related to pregnancy offer certain protections to pregnant U.S. employees, meaning that an employer is obligated to provide reasonable accommodations for the pregnancy-related disability.
Keep in mind that in order to receive reasonable accommodations under the ADA, you must first disclose the disability (including pregnancy-related conditions) to your employer. Employers are also legally obligated to keep all medical records confidential, including those related to pregnancy.
In conjunction with Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, these federal laws prohibit pregnancy-related discrimination and harassment in the hiring process, pay, job assignments, promotions, benefits, termination, and every other aspect of employment.
- Retaliation on behalf of your employer is illegal. If you file a complaint against a supervisor or colleague on the basis of sex discrimination or pregnancy discrimination, this is not grounds for you to be terminated from your position.
- You’re under no obligation to disclose your pregnancy to potential or current employers. An employer is legally prohibited from asking if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
- You cannot be passed up for a promotion because you’re pregnant. This is a form of blatant discrimination under the PDA.
5 Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace
Despite the federal protections described above, pregnancy discrimination still exists in the modern American workplace. It's imperative to protect your rights by understanding the forms that pregnancy discrimination can take during our careers. Keep reading to learn 5 examples of pregnancy discrimination at work.
#1. An employer doesn’t hire a qualified candidate because she is pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
Whether you’re a current employee or actively applying to jobs, you are not under any legal obligation to disclose your pregnancy status or intentions to your current or future employer. It's illegal for a company to ask you about it during any part of employment, including the hiring or interview process.
If a company declines to hire a perfectly qualified candidate based on pregnancy (whether current or planned), this is against the law.
#2. Your employer retaliates against you after you file a complaint.
If you choose to speak out against pregnancy discrimination or harassment in the workplace, your employer is legally prohibited from seeking retribution via termination or continued harassment. At the end of the day, an employer’s decision to retaliate against an employee who files a discrimination complaint is illegal.
#3. Your employer terminates your employment after you file a complaint.
As noted above, an employer is legally prohibited from retaliating against an employee due to a complaint of sex or pregnancy discrimination. This includes terminating your employment with the company.
Speaking out against pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is not grounds to fire you, and you are eligible to collect compensation if you are unlawfully terminated.
#4. Your employer refuses to provide a secure and private space to pump.
Under the Affordable Care Act, companies with at least 50 employees are legally required to provide an area that is safe, secure, and private for employees to pump breastmilk. Sadly, not all employers follow this law. It is illegal for an employer to:
- Actively or passively discourage breast pumping
- Harass you for breast pumping
- Fire you for breast pumping
Although companies with fewer than 50 employees may not face the same legal obligations, they are still obligated to prove that breast pumping poses an undue hardship in court—so don’t rule yourself out just because you work for a smaller organization. Pregnancy discrimination is discrimination regardless of company size, and a skilled employment lawyer can help protect your rights.
#5. Your employer passes you up for a deserved promotion based on pregnancy (or an intention to become pregnant).
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prevents employers from passing up a qualified candidate for promotion on the basis of pregnancy or an intention to become pregnant.
Under Title VII, companies are prohibited from being biased by assuming that a female employee's caregiving responsibilities (such as during pregnancy) will inevitably interfere with their ability to succeed in their day-to-day responsibilities, nor should they assume that a pregnant employee will perform less or be less committed than a non-pregnant employee.
If you suspect that you were passed up for a promotion due to pregnancy, there are ways to collect the compensation and obtain the justice you rightfully deserve. It's crucial to gather sufficient evidence of the unjust act, such as:
- Direct evidence of retaliation and/or discrimination. This may include emails or conversations in which someone told you that you were denied the promotion due to pregnancy or parental status.
- Disparate evidence that your employer changed their behavior towards you after learning you were pregnant. Consider the timeline linking the discrimination to your pregnancy. Did your employer praise your efforts and imply an upcoming promotion only to backtrack after learning of your pregnancy? Details like this can have a key impact on your case.
Regardless of the situation, it's essential to seek legal counsel from an experienced pregnancy discrimination attorney to build and strengthen your case. While discrimination is wrong no matter the circumstances, such cases can be difficult to prove in court. It’s crucial to rely on the skills and comprehensive legal knowledge of a qualified lawyer to obtain a favorable outcome in court and collect the compensation you are due.
Donati Law Is Here to Protect Your Employee Rights
Our firm is passionate about promoting equality and professionalism in the workplace. We pride ourselves on protecting the rights of American employees who have suffered discrimination or harassment at work, and we work tirelessly to ensure that justice is served accordingly.
Our dedicated employment law attorneys at Donati Law, PLLC bring over 150 collective years of legal experience to the table. We understand how difficult it can be to assert your rights when it comes to discrimination in the workplace, which is why we’re here to stay in your corner and fight for the compensation you deserve. Don’t settle for abusive treatment in your place of work. Count on us to advocate on your behalf today.
Are you a U.S. worker suffering discrimination at work? We’re here to fight for you. Call (901) 209-5500 or contact us online to request your confidential consultation.