The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is a federal law that was passed by Congress in 1978 as an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The PDA was passed in response to a Supreme Court Decision (General Electric Co. vs. Gilbert, 1976) in which the court ruled that pregnancy discrimination was not necessarily illegal. The 1978 Title VII amendment defined sex discrimination to include pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions within any aspect of employment.
The PDA requires employers to treat employees who are temporarily unable to work due to pregnancy equally with those who are temporarily unable to work for other reasons. The PDA also prohibits employers from common discriminatory policies such as firing women who become pregnant, refusing to hire pregnant women, and similar practices.
There are no special rights granted to pregnant employees under the PDA. The law simply requires employers to treat pregnant employees the same as other employees. For example, if an employer’s policy is to give light work duty to employees suffering from temporary disabilities, they must also allow pregnant employees to perform these same types of work assignments.
Violations of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act can occur at any time during the employment cycle – from the initial employment interview through termination and all points in between. Some common examples of pregnancy discrimination include:
If a job applicant is pregnant or may become pregnant in the future, an employer is not allowed to use this as a reason not to hire her. The same holds true for a pregnant employee who is applying for a different position within the same organization. Many employers try to justify this by saying they are looking for someone to work “long-term” or using similar language. This is illegal, as the employer is making a general assumption about the prospective employee’s future work abilities based solely on the fact that she is pregnant.
Some workplaces promote a hostile environment for pregnant employees, such as being subjected to insults, offensive comments, jokes, assaults, threats, and intimidation that interfere with a pregnant woman or new mother’s ability to perform their work. This type of conduct may come from a manager/supervisor, co-worker, business partner, or anyone else the pregnant employee comes in contact within the workplace.
Employers sometimes refuse to consider an employee for a promotion simply because she is pregnant. Another common practice is to demote a pregnant employee to a “less stressful” job or even force them to take time off. Sometimes, this may be done with good intentions out of concern for the employee’s health. Regardless of intentions, however, it is still illegal. Whether or not a pregnant employee can still perform certain tasks is not up to the employer to decide. It is between her and her doctor.
Pregnant employees must receive the same workplace accommodations as other employees with temporary disabilities. As mentioned earlier, if other temporarily disabled employees are allowed to perform light tasks, pregnant employees should be afforded the same opportunity.
Employees with physical limitations due to pregnancy must be allowed medical leave under the same terms and conditions as other employees with medical impairments. In other words, if short-term leave is provided for other employees with temporary disabilities, these same policies must be applied to pregnant employees. In addition, under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers must allow pregnant employees to return after their leave to their previous position or one similar in pay and benefits.
It is illegal for an employer to fire, demote, harass, or otherwise retaliate against an employee who opposes pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, files a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit, or is part of a pregnancy discrimination proceeding.
An employer is not allowed to fire an employee, lay her off, or reduce her work hours simply because she is pregnant. Even if the employer cites health and safety concerns, this is still not a valid reason for termination.
If you believe your employer has discriminated against you because you are pregnant, the first step is to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In Alabama and Georgia, this charge must be filed within 180 days of the employment discrimination incident. Barrett & Farahany can help you file your charges and guide you through the EEOC’s investigation process.
Once your pregnancy discrimination charge is received, the EEOC may investigate your claim, invite you to participate in mediation with your employer, or issue you a “right to sue” letter – you may request this letter from the EEOC if you plan to sue your employer for pregnancy discrimination. Once you receive your “right to sue” letter, you have just 90 days to file your lawsuit.
If you are planning to bring a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against your employer, time is of the essence. For this reason, it is important to speak with a seasoned employment rights attorney as soon as possible. Barrett & Farahany has extensive experience with pregnancy discrimination litigation and can thoroughly assess your case, review your options, and help decide the best legal path toward a favorable outcome.
At Barrett & Farahany, we’re dedicated to helping working mothers get the fair treatment they deserve. Don’t hesitate to contact our pregnancy discrimination attorneys for help.
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