When I Told Them I Was Pregnant, I Didn’t Get the Job. What Are My Rights?

August 5, 2019

Pregnancy can be an extremely scary but also very important time period for women in the workforce. Discrimination may arise, placing a woman’s career and current job in jeopardy. When you feel your rights at work are violated due to a pregnancy, even in the preliminary phase of the hiring process, be aware of your legal rights.

The truth is every woman has a right to experience a discrimination-free hiring process – protecting her against all types of discrimination – including her pregnancy status. This is despite the fact that many women face discrimination from employers who carry unjust biases toward working women who are pregnant. These biases can arise for various reasons, including the company’s lack of knowledge and misconceptions.

  1. Employers may shy away from hiring pregnant workers due to a lack of knowledge or misunderstanding about additional costs associated with employing a pregnant worker.
  2. Employers may believe hiring a pregnant employee requires extra costs for health insurance premiums.
  3. Sometimes bias against pregnant workers comes in the form of incorrect assumptions about the pregnant employees inability to perform her job duties.
  4. An employer may be unable to abandon stereotypes about a woman’s ability to perform her job well while pregnant or about the risks associated with employing a female worker who is pregnant.

When an employer first interviews a pregnant worker face to face, these biases and stereotypes may come to light. Phone interviews may not pose a problem, but in a face-to-face interview, employers could decide to abruptly end the interview or refuse to hire a worker after they have seen that she is pregnant.

What the Law Says:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act provides protection for pregnant workers who experience discrimination in the hiring and interview process as well as during employment. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which amends Title VII, is designed to specifically address issues women employees face while trying to obtain and maintain employment in today’s job force.

According to Title VII, an employer violates a pregnant worker’s right to work free of sex discrimination when employment decisions like hiring or firing are made based on pregnancy status. Title VII provides federal protection for workers in companies with 15 or more employees. This protections extends to several protected categories, such as age, sex, nationality, race and religion.

Even further protection for employees if provided by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The PDA clarifies that discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions is a form of sex discrimination under Title VII. Any aspect of employment can fall under the law’s protection including termination, benefits, promotion and job assignments.

What Issues Arise Under The Pregnancy Discrimination Act?

Specific issues may arise which spark an interest in the provisions of the PDA. According to the EEOC “Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues”, released in June of 2015, one of those issues could be the employer claiming lack of knowledge of  the pregnancy.

An employer may not be liable for pregnancy discrimination if a decision not to hire was made without knowing a worker was pregnant. This could pose as a challenge. But, when the employer does know that a worker is pregnant and makes an adverse decision not to hire based on that knowledge, the employer could be held liable.

For instance, a phone interview may result in an offer of employment, but the employer may later rescind the offer of employment after an in-person meeting shows she is obviously pregnant. This could be good evidence that the employer’s refusal to hire was based on knowledge of the pregnancy in violation of the PDA.

Issues may also come to light during the hiring process which demonstrate that an employer is biased against hiring a pregnant employee. The employer might assume that pregnancies lead to:

  1. A pregnant worker’s absences from work
  2. A pregnant worker being a risky hire due to the fact that they might need additional time off to care for the child in the future
  3. A pregnant worker may need accommodations in their work environment, tasks or schedule which the employer may not want to provide
  4. A pregnant worker may increase health insurance premiums for the company
  5. A pregnant worker may be an indication of more pregnancies in the future, meaning more time off and inconvenience for the company
  6. A pregnant worker may decide to leave the job permanently after the pregnancy and not return to work

While these may be valid concerns, according to federal law (and most state law), it’s illegal to use such stereotypes and assumptions to make employment decisions (hiring, firing or any other decisions).

The EEOC enforcement guidance also emphasizes that future pregnancies could be the subject of workplace discrimination. It’s illegal for employers to refuse to hire a potential worker simply because the company believes there is risk to unborn children or future pregnancies.

Even if an employer is willing to hire a pregnant potential worker, but later refuses to hire due to knowledge of a medical conditions related to the pregnancy, this too, could be a violation of the PDA. Pregnant employees with a medical conditions related to the pregnancy, or childbirth in general, should be treated the same as other workers similar in their ability or inability to work, according to EEOC guidelines.

Enforcing Your rights as a Pregnant applicant

Even if you are pregnant while looking for employment, you don’t have to settle for subpar hiring situations. If you feel you have been denied employment due to employer bias or stereotypes about pregnant workers, you have a number of options.

Filing a charge with the EEOC may be the first step toward resolving the issue. The EEOC is responsible for enforcing Title VII and the PDA. When an employee files a charge, the EEOC may conduct an investigation to determine whether the employer is in violation of discrimination laws.

After the investigation, the EEOC may decide to represent workers in court. The EEOC would also offer representation in any settlement negotiations as well. If the agency decides against representation, it will issue a Notice of Right to Sue which authorizes employees to hire their own attorneys to represent them in a lawsuit against an employer.

You Have A Right to Be Hired, Even If You’re Pregnant

Whether you are searching for employment while pregnant or even expecting to have children in the future (and have communicated that either to your employer or prospective employer), it is illegal for an employer to refuse to hire you based on your pregnant status. However, keep in mind that litigating violations of rights in employment law and especially pregnancy discrimination can sometimes be complicated.

What Next?

If you feel that you have not been hired or have been fired due to your pregnancy or that you are being subjected to any form of harassment because you are pregnant you should consult with an attorney who is experienced in employment law immediately. The laws governing pregnancy discrimination are complex. There are strict regulations governing the process for filing a lawsuit. Furthermore, there are strict time restrictions, 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 for a free consultation.