On July 14, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) published guidance on laws governing pregnancy-based discrimination for the first time since 1984. Charges of pregnancy discrimination are rising largely due to common and persistent misconceptions about pregnancy in the workplace.
The two of the main federal laws concerning pregnancy-related discrimination in the workplace are the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The PDA is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), which contains two fundamental restrictions on how employers may treat workers for pregnancy-related reasons.
First, employers may not discriminate against employees on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or other related medical conditions. Second, women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or other related conditions must be treated the same as other persons similar in their ability or inability to work. The ADA’s pregnancy-related provisions mandate that employers must accommodate impairments caused by an employee’s pregnancy to the same extent they would other disabilities in the workplace.
While the laws may appear to be simple, applying them to the numerous contexts in which workplace discrimination may arise can be more complex. That’s where the EEOC guidelines come in to play. We have reviewed the guidance and summarized eleven of its most critical points, to be posted in a two-part series. Here are the first five:
1) Title VII prohibits employment decisions based on stereotypes and assumptions about pregnancy and how it affects a woman’s ability to perform her job. For example, refusing to hire a pregnant woman based on the assumption that she will have attendance problems or leave her job after the child is born is unlawful, even when the employer is acting unconsciously or with the belief that it is furthering the employee’s best interest. As the Supreme Court has specifically stated: “[W]e are beyond the day when an employer could evaluate employees by assuming or insisting that they matched the stereotype associated with the group.”
2) Lactation is a covered pregnancy-related medical condition. Title VII requires an employer to offer a woman who is lactating the same accommodations for addressing related health needs that it would provide her coworkers for other similarly limiting medical conditions.
3) Title VII forbids employers from requiring that pregnant workers who are able to do their jobs to take leave. As the EEOC’s guidance explains, such an action constitutes discrimination, even if the employer believes it is in the woman’s best interest, because it is almost certainly motivated by stereotypes about pregnancy.
4) Title VII requires that parental leave (which is different from medical leave associated with childbearing or recovering from childbirth) be provided to similarly-situated men and women on the same terms. An employee may have a valid claim for discrimination against her employer if she is treated differently from a man for taking parental leave, based on the employer’s mistaken assumption that a new mother would be less committed to her job.
5) The ADA requires that employers make reasonable accommodations to pregnancy-related impairments just as they would other qualified disabilities in the workplace. For example, an employer who has a policy of providing light duty for any employee who cannot perform one or more jobs for up to 90 days due to injury, illness, or a condition that would be a disability under the ADA must provide those same accommodations to a women who is similarly affected due to pregnancy-related reasons.
If you were fired, demoted, or otherwise discriminated against in a job for reasons related to your pregnancy, childbirth, or the desire to become pregnant, you may have a case of discrimination under Title VII and the ADA. For a consultation, please call us at (703) 791-9087 or visit our web site at www.erlichlawoffice.com.
Please join us for Part 2 when we’ll discuss the second set of things you should know from the EEOC’s recent pregnancy discrimination guidelines.