The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) protects pregnant mothers from discrimination in the workplace relating to practically all matters of employment, including insurance, hiring/firing, pay, and work assignments.
An amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark federal civil rights and labor law forbidding discrimination, the PDA makes discrimination “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions” unlawful discrimination under Title VII. The PDA prohibits discrimination based on a current pregnancy, as well as discrimination based past pregnancies, potential or intended pregnancies, or medical conditions related to pregnancy. The PDA prohibits discriminatory policies limiting or precluding women from performing specific jobs because of pregnancy concerns.
An employer must have 50 or more employees, during 20 or more calendar workweeks (not required to be consecutive) in the current or preceding year, and 50 or more employees must work within a 75-mile radius. An employee needs to have been employed for at least 1,250 service hours for the employer during the previous 12 months immediately preceding FMLA leave.
An eligible employee can take FMLA leave for the birth of a child or children, the adoption of a child or children, or an employee that has a foster child or children under their care. An eligible employee can also take FMLA leave if they are unable to perform their job because of a serious health condition, which may include pregnancy, miscarriage, or any complications or illnesses related to pregnancy.
FMLA allows a leave of up to 12 consecutive weeks, intermittent leave taken in separate blocks of time due to a single injury or illness, or a reduced work leave schedule, in which workweek or workday hours are reduced. An employee has to provide an employer with a minimum of 30 days advance notice before FMLA leave can begin, but when circumstances require the leave to begin in less than 30 days, notice must be provided as soon as is practicable.
It is important to note that FMLA does not require an employer to provide paid leave. FMLA allows an employee to choose, or the employer to require, substitution of paid leave such that total paid and unpaid leave equals 12 weeks. During FMLA leave, an employer must maintain the employee’s health coverage under the existing premium contribution arrangement through any group health plan.
When an employee returns from FMLA leave, they are entitled to be restored to the same position they held before the leave, or an equivalent position with equivalent benefits, pay, and other terms and conditions of employment.
Pregnancy benefits apply to all employees, regardless of their marital status.
When a person submits a pregnancy discrimination complaint to the EEOC, the agency will notify the employer and begin its own investigation. The EEOC will attempt to settle your case and might refer you and your employer to a mediator. If a settlement does not appear possible, the EEOC could file a lawsuit in federal court. The EEOC may also dismiss your charge, issuing instead a “right to sue” letter that would allow you to pursue your own case in a civil court. You can also request a right to sue letter earlier in the process.
Some women may be victims of multiple forms of discrimination in their workplace. In addition to pregnancy discrimination, a worker could be subject to certain discriminatory actions because of their race or age. All of these forms of discrimination are illegal, and victims could have additional discrimination claims in these cases.
An employer must treat a pregnant employee the same as they would treat any other temporarily disabled employee. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stated that the PDA “makes clear that it is discriminatory to treat pregnancy-related conditions less favorably than other medical conditions.”
An employer who allows temporarily disabled employees to change their work duties, perform different tasks, or take disability leave or unpaid leave must also allow pregnant employees to do the same.
An employer is not prohibited under any federal law from asking an employee if they are pregnant or if they plan to become pregnant, but such questions can often open the door to pregnancy discrimination claims, particularly if an employer declines to hire an applicant who indicates she is pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant. Also remember that applicants are under no obligation to report a pregnancy or planned pregnancy during a job interview.
To prove a PDA claim, you will generally need evidence of a policy at the workplace that discriminates against pregnant individuals, statements by employers indicating a pregnancy bias, short windows of time between reported pregnancies and adverse actions, or employees unaffected by pregnancy having more favorable work conditions.
The PDA clearly prohibits discriminatory actions, even when an employer believes they are acting in a pregnant person’s best interests. Employers cannot force pregnant women to take lower paying jobs or work fewer hours due to a fear of pregnancy complications, as employees are free to determine what is best for them.
Always keep a detailed record of every episode of perceived discrimination. Write down the dates, times, and places of all discriminatory incidents, and be sure to save any records you may have from your employer relating to your job performance. If you feel you’ve been a victim, contact us for a free consultation.