The federal government receives about 6,000 complaints of pregnancy discrimination every year. In addition, a large number of pregnancy discrimination cases are settled by private lawyers before any formal complaints are filed.
Laws Protecting Pregnant Women
Some obvious examples of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace are when a woman is fired shortly after her boss learns that she is pregnant or an employer refuses to hire a pregnant woman who is obviously qualified for the position.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, however, prohibits all forms of pregnancy discrimination, including discrimination in job assignments, work schedules, break time, compensation, promotions, leaves of absence, and health insurance. Employers may not discriminate against employees in any of these terms and conditions of employment based on their current pregnancy, past pregnancy, or potential pregnancy.
You may also be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. While a normal pregnancy is not considered a disability, some pregnancy-related medical conditions such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia may be. Absent undue hardship, an employer must provide reasonable accommodation to enable you to continue working with these conditions, such as modifications in work assignments, locations, or schedules.
Proving Pregnancy Discrimination
Proving pregnancy discrimination usually comes down to four facts.
- Timing. Changes in your employment shortly after your boss learns that you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant raise an inference that the change was caused by your pregnancy.
- Unequal treatment. For example, if men with temporary disabilities that prevent them from lifting heavy objects are given light duty, but women who cannot lift heavy objects temporarily because of their pregnancy are denied light duty, there is an inference of pregnancy discrimination.
- Statements by your employer. Obviously, if you have a statement from your employer that you are being denied a promotion because you are pregnant, that is very good evidence of pregnancy discrimination. Other pregnancy-related comments may also be considered evidence that your employer acted because of your pregnancy and not some other reason.
- Your job performance before the adverse employment action was taken. Employers often try to explain away pregnancy discrimination by pointing to an employee’s job performance or attendance record as the reason for an adverse employment action. If you have consistently received excellent performance evaluations, you should get copies of those evaluations and keep them at home. They may be important evidence if the employer tries to blame your performance or attendance as the reason for an adverse employment action.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act provide strong protections against pregnancy discrimination. But you must act promptly if you believe that your rights have been violated. Both statutes have strict limits on how and when you can bring your claim.