Pregnancy discrimination claims arise when an employee, a former employee, or a job applicant is treated unfavorably because of pregnancy, the ability or intention to become pregnant, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. A successful pregnancy discrimination claim establishes that a pregnancy-related condition was a substantial motivating reason for an adverse employment action. The employee can prove this by showing that other similarly situated employees were treated differently. Despite the establishment of laws intended to eliminate pregnancy discrimination, women from a broad spectrum of occupations and at a variety of income levels still face pregnancy-related discrimination every day. Employers must recognize the value of a workplace free from all forms of discrimination and harassment, and prioritize establishing fair guidelines for hiring, firing, and otherwise maintaining a workplace free from pregnancy discrimination.

What Constitutes Pregnancy Discrimination?

Employees are protected from discrimination based on pregnancy by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). Pregnancy discrimination may occur within any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, job assignments, benefits, health insurance, leave, and any other employment condition. Pregnancy discrimination may involve temporary disability if a woman is unable to perform her job because of a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. Medical conditions resulting from pregnancy such as gestational disabilities or preeclampsia also may be considered disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In these cases, employers are obligated to treat the woman in the same way as they would any other disabled or temporarily disabled employees. This may mean offering light duty, leave, unpaid leave, alternative assignments, or other forms of accommodation.

Pregnancy discrimination also may involve harassment. It is illegal to harass a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. Pregnancy harassment must be either severe or pervasive enough that it creates a hostile work environment to be deemed illegal. Pregnancy harassment may involve conduct by a direct or indirect supervisor, a co-worker, or any other employee. It also may include conduct by clients or customers of the employer.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) new parents are eligible for 12 weeks of leave, provided they have worked for a covered employer for 12 months prior to taking the leave. Covered employers include companies with 50 or more employees, public agencies (e.g., local, state, or federal agencies of any size), and public or private elementary or secondary schools of any size. The 12-week allowance for leave applies to all new parents, including foster and adoptive parents, but is not guaranteed to be paid.

FMLA also provides protections for nursing mothers who wish to nurse or pump milk in the workplace. Covered employers must provide “reasonable” time for breaks so that nursing mothers can express breast milk for one year after the child’s birth. In addition, employers must provide an area for nursing that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers to express the breast milk. A bathroom—even a private bathroom—is not considered a permissible location under FMLA. If the space is not dedicated to the nursing mother’s use, it must at least be available whenever needed.

Pregnancy Discrimination: How We Can Help

The employment attorneys at Payne & Fears have decades of experience deciphering the details of both federal and state equal opportunity laws. Drawing upon the most recent discrimination actions and cases, our employment attorneys routinely provide compliance trainings for our employer clients. Our attorneys also have experience defending clients against claims of alleged pregnancy discrimination, whether these claims are made at the administrative level or in litigation.

With clients representing a wide cross-section of industries, Payne & Fears regularly defends employers facing pregnancy discrimination claims. Our employment litigation group stays current on changes to laws and actions affecting pregnancy discrimination at both the state and federal level. While we seek to help our clients reduce the risk of facing pregnancy discrimination claims in the first place, we do not shy away from a fight. When a legal issue arises, we draw upon our decades of experience defending clients against pregnancy discrimination claims in administrative forums and in litigation in state and federal court.