Experiencing pregnancy and birth at any time during a career is a huge issue for women in workplaces across America. Pregnancies are normally celebratory events, even among working women, but due to prevailing (and biased) attitudes that pregnancies and work are at odds, some employers can engage in illegal decision-making in response to them.
When this happens, women workers need to know how to handle employment rights violations, especially when an employee suspects that pregnancy is the true reason behind a termination notice.
How Often Are Women Fired Due to Pregnancy?
Even though it’s illegal under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act) to fire a woman due to pregnancy, employers do so frequently. In 2014, 61 percent of the discrimination claims filed with the EEOC involved either sex or pregnancy discrimination. Today, pregnancy discrimination claims account for 1 in 5 of the discrimination claims brought by women, a statistic which has led the EEOC to spotlight the issue.
A 2014 Ohio study revealed that employers often discriminate against pregnant women using a number of reasons to circumvent employment discrimination laws. About 60 percent fired pregnant workers under the pretense of poor performance, while about 15 percent reported a pregnant worker as undependable. About 75 of the women surveyed reported experiencing unfair treatment only after announcing their pregnancies.
Facts About Title VII and The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Both federal laws provide protection to pregnant workers. Under Title VII, pregnant workers are protected by provisions prohibiting sex discrimination. The Act also prohibits harassment and retaliation. Title VII applies to all aspects of employment, including hiring, compensation and termination.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act expands theses provisions to provide specific protection for pregnant workers. Under the PDA, employers must treat workers the same as other workers with limited ability, cannot discriminate and must provide the same types of benefits, including health insurance that other workers get. In addition, the PDA provides that employers are obligated to provide reasonable accommodation to working pregnant women when requested.
In 2014, the EEOC issued guidelines for employers about accommodating pregnant workers which would have required companies to provide the same type of accommodations provided to other workers with similar in their ability or inability to work. This standard did not last long however. In 2015, the Supreme Court rejected the standard in a cased called Young v. United States Parcel Service.
The legal approach to accommodations in pregnancy discrimination cases is significant because requests for accommodations in some instances cause adverse reactions from employers. For instance, an employer may decide to fire a pregnant worker rather than take the necessary steps to accommodate her pregnancy.
Upholding Your Rights After Termination
When a woman is fired due to being pregnant, her rights at both the federal and state level though Title VII and the PDA as well as state laws meant to protect pregnant workers. The first step for federal complaints is to file a charge with the EEOC. The EEOC handles allegations of pregnancy discrimination under both Title VII and the PDA.
A complaint with the EEOC begins with the charge filing process. After initial intake, the federal agency investigates allegations of pregnancy discrimination to determine whether or not the case is sufficient for representation. The investigation process often involves interviews with the suspected employees, management and supervisors.
If the EEOC confirms the allegations, the agency will move forward with filing a formal lawsuit in court on behalf of the aggrieved pregnant worker. If not, the EEOC issues a Notice of the RIght To Sue letter to the employee to allow her to proceed in court with her own legal representation.
Filing a Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit
With the help of a qualified employment discrimination attorney, a victim of pregnancy discrimination can file a lawsuit against her employer in federal court. Proving pregnancy discrimination requires certain expertise concerning the particular laws and cases involved in a pregnancy discrimination suit.
In particular, a pregnancy discrimination claim involves four main elements. First the employee must prove that she is or was pregnant at the time of the discrimination. She must also show that she was qualified for her job and that she was terminated. Lastly, she must show that her pregnancy led to her termination.
Once these facts are established, the burden of proof shifts to the employer. The employer must show that there was some other legitimate reason for the termination besides pregnancy. If the employer is successful, it is then up to the employee to show that the discrimination she experienced was intentional even beyond the presumption raised with her initial allegations. This is successful when she proves that the employer’s reasons are merely a pretext for intentional pregnancy discrimination.
State Level Protection Against Pregnancy Discrimination
While federal pregnancy discrimination law pertains to companies with 15 or more employees in the workplace, state laws often allow women workers with jobs at smaller companies to file claims of pregnancy discrimination. Some some states have had laws on the books banning pregnancy discrimination at work since the 1970’s, while other states have only recently added legislation to address the issue. These include New Jersey, Rhode Island and West Virginia with pregnancy discrimination laws passed in 2014.
The process for filing a discrimination charge is slightly different under state laws, but the EEOC is still involved. Employees must first contact their state EEO department and file formal charges there before proceeding to court. The term for filing is also different in comparison to federal pregnancy discrimination claims. Federal claims must be filed within 180 days of the last discrimination incident, while state claims generally have up to 300 days.
Proving Pregnancy Discrimination
An unjust termination due to pregnancy is a serious matter that can negatively affect a woman’s career for decades. If the matter is not thoroughly addressed in a timely fashion, the event can unfairly reflect on a woman’s performance ability and hinder career aspirations. That is why knowing how to prove pregnancy discrimination is essential for today’s women workers.
If you suspect you’ve been fired due to being pregnant, know that legal remedies are available. Contact an experienced employment rights attorney to ensure your employer is held accountable.