What Rights Do You Have If You Suffer from Pregnancy Discrimination at Work?
Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is illegal in all 50 U.S. states. Yet, thousands of workers file pregnancy discrimination claims every year with their state’s employment agency or with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
You would think that in our modern world, sex discrimination and pregnancy discrimination would no longer be an issue. But even today, pregnant employees still suffer too many prejudices at work — despite the importance of their health and family.
No one should have to suffer the indignity of workplace discrimination. Discriminatory comments and actions can affect not only your career but also your mental and emotional health. Family planning is deeply personal. Pregnancy and the birth of a new child is a meaningful time, and no one should have to worry about how it will impact their job.
The law agrees, which is why your employer cannot legally fire, demote, or treat you differently for any pregnancy, childbirth, or reproduction-related conditions. This applies to past pregnancies, a current pregnancy, or potential pregnancies in the future.
What does that mean exactly?
- A company cannot refuse to hire you for being pregnant.
- Your employer cannot make decisions related to assignments, scheduling, promotions, or demotions based on your current pregnancy or the possibility of a future pregnancy. This includes assumptions made about you that may not even be true — for example, assuming you plan to have children soon simply because you’re married and of childbearing age.
- You cannot be fired for pregnancy or any childbirth-related condition.
- Your employer cannot deny you reasonable accommodations for your pregnancy, such as changing your duties so you’re not lifting heavy objects, allowing you to take medical leave for pregnancy complications, or giving you additional breaks for pumping or breastfeeding once you’re back at work.
- Your employer cannot treat you differently than other workers based on your reproductive capacity. For example, your employer cannot forbid female employees of childbearing age from working with certain chemicals based on the concern that exposure might harm a developing fetus.
- You cannot get fired or demoted after coming back from pregnancy leave.
Federal and state pregnancy discrimination laws don’t give pregnant employees any special rights. They simply make sure pregnant employees are treated the same as other workers.
Federal law acts as a baseline to protect workers against pregnancy discrimination. The protections in the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) apply to workers across the country. But some states have pregnancy discrimination laws in addition to federal laws, granting employees even greater protections.
What Does Pregnancy Discrimination Look Like?
Pregnancy discrimination could include any negative action taken against you by your employer because of a childbirth-related issue. Examples of pregnancy discrimination could look like:
- Getting fired because of a pregnancy-related condition or taking pregnancy leave
- Being asked during the interview if you ever intend to have children
- Denying you a job because of your pregnancy and no other discernible reason, when you are otherwise qualified for the position
- Subjecting you to assumptions, jokes, or negative comments about your pregnancy or related condition
- Demoting you or decreasing your hours after returning from pregnancy leave
- Refusing to provide reasonable workplace accommodations for your pregnancy
- Retaliating against you after you file a pregnancy discrimination claim
- Punishing you for taking your legally protected disability or family leave time
- Shortening the amount of time you’re legally allowed for pregnancy or family leave
You may have even greater protections based on the laws of the state where you live. For example, California extends the amount of unpaid family leave from 12 weeks to 24 total. Plus you get another 12 weeks under the state’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDLL).
How Can You Prove Pregnancy Discrimination?
Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace could be intentional or unintentional.
- You can prove intentional workplace discrimination by showing evidence that:
- The discrimination you’ve experienced is because of your pregnancy or other childbirth-related condition that is a legally protected characteristic,
- Your employer is subject to state or federal anti-discrimination laws,
- Your employer took an “adverse employment action” against you (such as firing or demoting you),
- The reason or motivating factor of the action was discrimination, and
- Your employer’s negative actions against you caused you harm.
The harm you suffered could include lost wages, lost career opportunities or advancement, or even emotional distress and mental suffering.
While unintentional pregnancy discrimination is more subtle and difficult to identify, it can be just as harmful.
Unintentional discrimination often occurs when a company has a seemingly “neutral” policy that ends up negatively impacting a protected group of employees (such as pregnant employees) more than other employees. This negative impact is known as “disparate impact.”
To prove unintentional discrimination resulting in disparate impact, you must show that:
- The policy in question has an actual discriminatory effect on pregnant employees,
- The policy is not a job-related business necessity, and
- Your employer refuses to enact a reasonable non-discriminatory policy in its place that would accomplish the same business purpose without discrimination.
Every case involving pregnancy discrimination is different. As a result, it's extremely important to gather as much evidence as you can to support your claim. This may not be easy if your employer revokes your access to company files or refuses to cooperate with your claim.
Evidence to demonstrate discrimination could include:
- A journal or log of all the discriminatory incidents you’ve experienced
- A list of people involved in the discriminatory behavior as well as witnesses
- Any written reports or emails submitted to HR or your supervisor about the incidents
- Records of any documents, emails, text messages, or discussions around the incident
- Copies of any positive performance reviews you’ve received in case your employer tries to blame your demotion or termination on the quality of your work
Discrimination can take a major mental and emotional toll on you and your family. If you’ve experienced pregnancy discrimination at work, you should talk to an employment discrimination lawyer as soon as possible to protect yourself and explore your options.
How Can You File a Pregnancy Discrimination Claim?
Depending on the circumstances of your pregnancy discrimination case, you may file a claim with your state employment agency, a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or a lawsuit in civil court. Each process has a time limit to file, so it’s important to get started on your case sooner rather than later so you don’t lose your chance. Additionally, you don’t want to allow your employer the time to bury any evidence.
An employment discrimination claim is a sensitive issue that must be handled delicately to protect your rights and your career. The passionate employment lawyers at the Wilshire Law Firm have stood for workers’ rights for years — we can help you get through this difficult time.
We know that now is not the time for you to worry about how you’ll afford a lawyer if you’ve been demoted or fired from your job. That’s why we take our cases on a contingency fee basis. This means you don’t pay us any fees until you win your case and are able to recover damages.
Call our nationally recognized, award-winning employment attorneys 24/7 at (800) 522-7274 to get started on your case with a FREE consultation now. You can also request a consultation through our online form.