Experiencing pregnancy and childbirth at any time during a career is an obstacle for working women across America. Pregnancies are normally exciting and happy events, even among working women, but due to prevailing (and extremely biased) attitudes that pregnancies and the working environment are at odds, some employers tend to engage in illegal decision-making in response to finding out an employee is pregnant.
When this happens, women employees need to know how to handle their employment rights violations and deal with their employer’s illegal actions, especially when an employee suspects that pregnancy is the true reason behind any negative treatment on behalf of their employer, especially a termination notice.
An Age-Old Problem that Still Exists
Employers frequently fire women due to their pregnancy, even though it’s illegal under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act). 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 recent study revealed that employers often discriminate against pregnant women using a number of reasons to circumvent discrimination laws. Such as, about 60 percent fired pregnant workers under the pretense of poor performance, while about 15 percent reported a pregnant worker as undependable and unreliable. About 75 of the women surveyed reported experiencing unfair treatment only after announcing their pregnancies and never before.
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 in the workplace. The Act also prohibits harassment and retaliation. Title VII applies to all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing and compensation.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act expands these 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 insurances that other workers get. In addition, the PDA provides that employers are obligated to provide reasonable accommodation to working pregnant women when requested.
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.
Protecting Your Rights
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 in the complaint, 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 attorney, a victim of pregnancy discrimination can file a lawsuit against her employer in federal court or state 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.
- Second, she must also show that she was qualified for her job.
- Third, that she was terminated or treated negatively because of her pregnant status.
- Fourth, she must show that her pregnancy led to her termination or negative treatment.
Once these facts are established, the burden of proof shifts to the employer to show that there was some other “legitimate” reason for the termination or negative treatment 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 the initial allegations. This is successful when she proves that the employer’s reasons are merely a pretext for intentional pregnancy discrimination.
How Can We Prove Pregnancy Discrimination?
A termination due to pregnancy is an extremely serious matter that can negatively affect a woman’s career for decades beyond the actual termination. If the matter is not properly addressed in a timely fashion, the event can unfairly reflect on a woman’s performance ability and hinder career aspirations in the future.
If you suspect you’ve been fired or treated negatively at work due to being pregnant, then you should consult with an attorney who is experienced in labor law immediately. The laws government pregnancy harassment and pregnancy discrimination are complex. There are strict regulations governing the process for filing a lawsuit. Furthermore, there are strict time limitations, known as statute of limitations, as to when a lawsuit can be filed. The experienced attorneys at Shegerian Conniff are ready to hold your employer accountable, fight for your legal rights and seek justice. Click here to contact us today or call us at 310-322-7500.