You just found out you’re pregnant, but you’re also in the middle of a crucial job search. What do you do? You’re doing all you can to increase your chances of getting hired, but what happens if your employer finds out you’re expecting?

Or perhaps you’re already showing, though you’d rather wait until after the delivery, the pressure to find a job is too intense, so you embark on a series of interviews only to receive rejection after rejection.

These issues and scenarios are not unusual when it comes to the topic of employment discrimination. In this post, we’ll discover what rights pregnant women have in the hiring process and what can be done when a refusal to hire occurs due to pregnancy discrimination.

The Law, Pregnancy and Getting Hired

Both state and federal laws are designed to protect workers around the country from  discrimination involving several protected categories. Among them is the right to work free of discrimination based on sex. Further, some laws specifically address pregnancy discrimination.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects workers at the federal level in companies with 15 or more employees. This law covers protection from pregnancy discrimination in the hiring process by including such unfair behavior in a handful of rights under the umbrella of sex discrimination. According to Title VII, workers are protected in all areas of the employment process and this includes hiring.

Spotting pregnancy and hiring discrimination from the federal law perspective means the employee must prove a causal connection between their failure to be hired and their pregnancy. This would demonstrate to courts that an employer unfairly used the sex of the applicant in order to decide whether or not she should be hired – an illegal act according to Title VII.

Workers also have hiring protection under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment to Title VII. This federal law specifically shields pregnant workers from discrimination in hiring and in a number of other areas of employment, and it gives pregnant workers the right to request reasonable accommodations for their pregnancy.

At the state level, pregnant works are also afforded protection from discrimination in hiring. For instance in California, employers with five or more employees must strictly adhere to the Fair Employment and Housing Act. According to this law, it’s illegal for employers to refuse to hire a potential worker due to pregnancy, childbirth or a related condition.

Establishing the Causal Connection

In many cases of discrimination involving pregnancy and refusal to hire, the main issue is whether there is a causal connection between the alleged behavior of an employer and the fact that the employee is pregnant. Both Title VII and the PDA as well as most other state laws requires this causal link in order for a claim of pregnancy discrimination to be successful.

This means the evidence an employee presents in support of her claim must be enough to prove to the court that her protected status as a pregnant woman was a reason for the employer’s refusal to hire her. There are a number of ways to demonstrate this causal connection.

According to EEOC guidelines released in 2015, explicit policies and more favorable treatment of other applicants or workers who are not pregnant could provide evidence of pregnancy discrimination. Even policies that are not discriminatory at first glance, but in effect adversely affect pregnant applicants, could be sufficient evidence of a causal link and grounds for a successful lawsuit.

At times, employers will offer alternate explanations about why they refused to hire a particular applicant. In instances where pregnancy discrimination is alleged, the fact that the employer is less credible in his explanation could indicate there is actually a causal connection between a refusal to hire a pregnant worker and the worker’s pregnant status.

Additionally, evidence that an employer’s explanation violates or misapplies its own policy could be further proof that the employer has violated anti-discrimination laws designed to protect pregnant workers from hiring discrimination.

Overcoming Discriminatory Refusal to Hire 

Employees who decide to take formal action to address possible pregnancy discrimination based on a refusal to hire must first file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Whether the case is brought under federal law or state law, or both, this first step is crucial.

An EEO investigation into the claims of hiring discrimination uses federal law such as Title VII as amended by the PDA or state law such as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act to determine whether or not the alleged violations are actionable in court.

The EEOC could choose to represent an employee’s case in court. However, even if the agency chooses not to take the case to court on behalf of an employee, she can still pursue the case in a court of law with the assistance of an employment discrimination attorney. In order to do so, the employee must receive a Notice-of-Right-to-Sue from the EEOC office.

It’s also important to be aware of the legal remedies available. For instance, a successful claim might mean that the employer receives an order from the court to complete the hire they originally refused, or it may mean that the employer is order to pay punitive damages. In most cases, a successful claim at least means that employers are ordered to pay court costs and attorney’s fees.

Getting to Just for Your Refusal to Hire

Hiring discrimination remains one of the top reasons for discrimination in the U.S. Even though an applicant for an employment position is pregnant, she has the right to fair and equal consideration in the hiring process. If you think your rights have been violated by a refusal to hire due to pregnancy, childbirth or a related condition, contact our experienced employment discrimination attorneys today.