Dealing with Pregnancy Discrimination: Steps to Take

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Childbirth should be celebrated no matter the employment status of the individual. Unfortunately, pregnancy discrimination is a hurdle many women may face while pursuing their professions. Due to this women are often left conflicted with the decision to choose between pursuing a career or creating a family. In California, there are laws that protect women from being discriminated against by their employers for starting families while working.  Yet, employers still act on their biases against women choosing to remain in the professional atmosphere while having children and this often leads to pregnancy discrimination. 

Understanding the legal landscape of pregnancy discrimination will equip you with the knowledge to know when it is time to contact an employment attorney, especially if you suspect your pregnancy is the reason behind a termination notice. Read below to learn more about pregnancy discrimination in the workplace and the signs to look out for if you suspect you may be experiencing discrimination regarding your pregnancy. 

How Often Are Women Fired Due to Pregnancy? 

Under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), it is illegal to fire a woman due to pregnancy. Despite these laws, employers still do so frequently. 

Over the past decade, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has received more than 50,000 cases of pregnancy discrimination claims. As of 2022, women comprise 56.8% of the country’s workforce, making it essential to address this issue effectively.

In a 2022 survey, 1 in 5 mothers reported experiencing workplace discrimination due to pregnancy. About 21% of mothers are even reluctant to inform employers about their pregnancy because they fear being laid off. Moreover, 15% of millennial working mothers are afraid to tell their employers about their pregnancy—a higher percentage than the 12% of Gen X and baby boomers combined.

Facts About Title VII and The Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is an amendment to the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, added in 1978. These two laws work together to safeguard you as a pregnant employee. Title VII provisions protect you by prohibiting sex discrimination, harassment, and retaliation across all aspects of employment, such as hiring, compensation, and termination.

Meanwhile, the PDA expands these provisions to provide specific protection for pregnant workers. Under the PDA, your employer is required to treat you like other employees with similar limitations without discrimination. It also mandates employers to provide the same benefits, including health insurance, that other employees receive. 

Furthermore, recent developments have paved the way for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. This act mandates employers to provide reasonable pregnancy accommodations when requested. It also prohibits them from forcing you to accept the accommodation without discussion or a leave of absence when an alternative option allows you to keep working.

The legal approach to accommodations in pregnancy discrimination cases is significant. In some instances, requests for accommodations can cause adverse reactions from employers, such as when an expectant employee was fired for being pregnant instead of the employer taking the necessary steps to provide accommodations.

Proving Pregnancy Discrimination 

Understanding what qualifies as pregnancy discrimination and how to prove it is essential to protect your rights against pregnancy discrimination at work.

1. Consult with an employment discrimination lawyer

Knowing your rights is essential to understand how to proceed with your case. As such, consult with an employment discrimination lawyer. 

With the assistance of a qualified employment discrimination attorney, you can file a lawsuit against your employer in federal court. Proving pregnancy discrimination requires expertise in the specific laws and cases pertinent to a pregnancy discrimination suit.

2. Gather and prepare substantial evidence

A pregnancy discrimination claim typically hinges on four main elements. First, you must prove that you are or were pregnant at the time of the discrimination. Next, you must show that you are qualified for the job and that your employer terminated you despite that fact. Lastly, you must establish that your pregnancy is the reason for termination.

Gather any documentary evidence supporting these elements and prepare to build your case, as you will bear the burden of proof. 

3. File a charge with the EEOC

Once you’ve gathered ample evidence, you can file a claim with the EEOC. The EEOC handles pregnancy discrimination allegations under Title VII and the PDA. 

After initial intake, the federal agency investigates allegations of pregnancy discrimination to determine whether or not the case is sufficient for representation. The investigation often involves interviews with suspected employees, management, and supervisors.

4. Wait for the EEOC’s confirmation

If the EEOC validates the allegations, the agency will file a formal lawsuit in court on your behalf. If not, the EEOC will issue you a Notice of the Right to Sue, allowing you to proceed in court with legal representation.

State-Level Protection Against Pregnancy Discrimination

While federal pregnancy discrimination law pertains to companies with 15 employees or more, state laws often extend protection to women working in smaller companies, allowing them to file pregnancy discrimination claims. Some states have had laws on the books banning pregnancy discrimination at work since the 1970s. 

Meanwhile, other states have only recently added legislation to address the issue. These include New Jersey, Rhode Island, and West Virginia, with pregnancy discrimination laws passed in 2014, reflecting a growing recognition of the importance of addressing the problem.

Keep in mind that the process for filing a discrimination charge is slightly different under state laws, but the EEOC is still involved. Employees must first contact their state EEO department and file formal charges before moving to court. 

The filing term is also different from federal pregnancy discrimination claims. Federal claims must be filed within 180 days of the last discrimination incident, while state claims generally have up to 300 days.

Upholding Your Rights as an Expectant Employee 

An unjust termination due to pregnancy is a serious matter that can negatively affect your career for decades. If left unaddressed, the event can unfairly reflect on your performance and ability and hinder career opportunities. In that regard, knowing how to prove pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is essential for you and other women.

If you suspect you’ve been fired for being pregnant, know that legal remedies are available. Contact an experienced pregnancy discrimination lawyer to ensure your employer is held accountable. An experienced attorney’s advice, well-versed in discrimination laws, can be invaluable when your career is on the line. 

For help filing an EEOC claim and learning about your legal options, consult with an employment rights attorney at Shegerian & Associates today.

Disclaimer: None of the aforementioned information should be construed as legal advice. Likewise, contacting us via our website does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Please consult with a competent and qualified attorney to discuss your specific situation before taking action on your own.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pregnancy Discrimination

1. Can pregnancy be grounds for unfair dismissal?

According to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, employers cannot use pregnancy as a legal ground for dismissal in the United States. The law prohibits such discrimination, ensuring that expectant employees cannot be terminated solely due to pregnancy.

2. What are some examples of workplace discrimination against pregnant employees?

Pregnancy discrimination should not be a concern for employees, yet employers can still take part in discriminatory behavior against expecting mothers. Being aware of the different forms of discrimination can help address issues between your employer when they arise. Pregnancy discrimination can take various forms aside from unfair dismissal. Examples include denying promotions, reducing responsibilities, excluding pregnant employees from meetings or training, or treating them less favorably than non-pregnant workers in any aspect of employment. If you have experienced any of these while working we recommend contacting an employment attorney as soon as possible.  

3. How does pregnancy discrimination affect working mothers?

Pregnancy discrimination can cause emotional and financial stress to soon-to-be or current working mothers. Pregnancy discrimination may lead to financial instability, job loss, reduced career opportunities, and heightened stress during what should be a joyous time. In one study, pregnancy discrimination has been shown to negatively affect a baby’s life and worsen a mother’s postpartum depressive symptoms. 

Manuela Varela

Relations Manager

Manuela Varela has been with Shegerian & Associates since August 2022. She is responsible for outreach and marketing on behalf of the firm and manages relationships between firms and referring attorneys. She is also responsible for developing business opportunities and affiliations. Manuela graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Economics and Political Science.