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Pregnancy Discrimination: A Persistent Problem

The Problem

While the days of shameless sex discrimination depicted in the AMC Series Mad Men may be a thing of the past, pregnancy and other forms of sex discrimination in the workplace continue to present female workers with a very pervasive, significant, and problematic obstacle to career advancement, equal pay and fair opportunity.

“It’s just a 1950s and ’60s mentality that these women are fragile objects when they are pregnant and they need to be protected,” a top government employment rights official says.

The EEOC received 4,029 pregnancy discrimination complaints in fiscal year 2010 and 3,400 in fiscal year 2014. The state Human Relations Commission received 201 complaints in fiscal year 1999-2000 and 48 complaints in fiscal year 2013-14.

How can this possibly still happen?

Cause of the Problem

Much of the responsibility must rest with the employer. Employers routinely fail to provide their employees with adequate training and supervision when it comes to sex and pregnancy discrimination. They don’t educate supervisors, managers, and others on what constitutes sex discrimination, how to report it, and what actions to take if they hear about it. As a result, pregnancy discrimination is implicitly, or in some cases explicitly, condoned.

Making this problem worse, many complaints alleging pregnancy discrimination or harassment are ignored and swept under the rug. Many supervisors just don’t want to rock the boat by reprimanding or disciplining managers or other employees. Others still themselves subscribe to many of the stereotypes about pregnant women in the workplace. Many employees are afraid to report pregnancy discrimination or harassment to the human resources department because they fear retaliation or reprisals.

The law is clear. It is illegal to discriminate against pregnant workers, or workers who have requested or taken medical or pregnancy leave. Employers must make decisions (promotions, terminations, demotions) based on a woman’s job performance, not on their sex or their pregnancy status.

Federal Law

In 1978 Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Under the PDA, employers must treat pregnant women the same as other workers or job applicants with comparable skills.

Also, where a business allows temporarily disabled employees the right to take disability leave or offers them light duty assignments, it must give the pregnant employee the same accommodations or assignments. Also, employers must keep a position open during a pregnancy-related absence for the same length of time jobs are held open for workers who are missing work because of illness or temporary disability leave.

Further, employers can’t refuse to hire pregnant women as long as they can perform the essential functions of the job. The law prohibits discrimination against pregnant women in firings, layoffs, job assignments, trainings, assignments, training, and promotions.

Recently, the United States Supreme Court reinstated a pregnancy discrimination case brought by a female employee that the lower courts dismissed, finding that the evidence she presented was sufficient to warrant a jury trial.

California law also prohibits discrimination against women in the workplace based on their pregnancy. Any adverse treatment of a woman because of her pregnancy may be a violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

If you, a friend of loved one has been discriminated against because of pregnancy, or taking of pregnancy leave, please contact The Law Offices of Daniel Feder to speak with an experienced pregnancy discrimination lawyer. The only way to stop pregnancy discrimination from continuing as a serious social and economic problem is to stand up against it by drawing attention to the problem and by holding corporations accountable.