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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) now classifies pregnancy as one of its protected classes. This means that employers may not use pregnancy as the basis for decisions such as hiring, promotions, benefits, or terminations. This also encompasses accommodations such as light duty for pregnant women.
What is Pregnancy Discrimination?
Legally considered a form of sex discrimination, pregnancy discrimination is illegal in every state. This protection extends beyond pregnant women to include all pregnancy-based decisions. For example, placing limitations on the duties women may perform while in their child-bearing years is a form of sex discrimination, as this constitutes treating employees differently based on their reproductive capacity.
This protection does not afford pregnant women special rights over other employees. Its purpose is ensuring pregnant women are not treated differently from other employees. Light duty assignments for pregnant women are no different than the accommodations made for other employees with temporary disabilities.
How Do I Prove Pregnancy Discrimination?
Winning a pregnancy discrimination case requires proving that your employer treated you differently based on your pregnancy. You must provide evidence, either direct or circumstantial, that such discrimination occurred. As with all discrimination cases, document any occurrences, including date, time, and a description of the event.
What are Examples of Direct Pregnancy Discrimination Evidence?
Though rare, since most employers understand the illegality of discrimination, providing direct evidence is possible if the employer admits that your pregnancy influenced his or her action. This is actually more likely to happen with pregnancy than other types of discrimination. Examples include stating that he or she would hire you if you were not pregnant, or denying a promotion with the given reason that you won't have time for the extra workload after the baby comes.
What are Examples of Circumstantial Pregnancy Discrimination Evidence?
Even without a direct statement that your pregnancy played a role in your employer's action, the facts of your case may prove that pregnancy likely played a part. This may be proof that the action constituted a deviation from policy or common practice, especially if the action occurred shortly after discovering your pregnancy and no other explanation exists. You may also provide statistics regarding treatment of pregnant employees in the past.
In pregnancy discrimination cases, timing is everything. Any treatment changes occurring after learning of your pregnancy may infer discrimination, even if the pregnancy is never given as a reason for these actions. For example, if your employment was terminated, a number of factors may provide circumstantial evidence that the action was pregnancy-based. Did your employer follow policy before terminating you? Many employers' termination policies include verbal and/or written warnings prior to termination. If you did not receive a warning, this discrepancy may prove discrimination.
Were you fired shortly before going out on leave? Did someone in leadership ask questions about your work plans (or childcare plans) after delivery? Did the stated reason for termination make sense? Does your company have a history of terminating the employment of pregnant employees shortly before their due date? All of these qualify as circumstantial evidence.
How to File a Pregnancy Discrimination Complaint?
Start by filing a formal internal complaint with the company. This serves two purposes: allowing the company the chance to do the right thing and proving you made the company aware of the issue. This second piece is vital in proving your case, since you must prove employer culpability in order to win.
If your employer ignores your complaint, you must file an administrative complaint with the EEOC before you may file a lawsuit. Skipping this step means the court throws out your case. If your state has its own antidiscrimination agency, you must also file a complaint with them. Upon receipt of your complaint, the EEOC notifies your employer and begins its investigation. The EEOC may also request a mediation session. Upon completion of its investigation, the EEOC issues a right-to-sue letter. You may also request this letter at any time.
Once you receive your right-to-sue letter, you may file a discrimination lawsuit. Time constraints require quick action here, as you have only 90 days to file a lawsuit. An employment lawyer helps with this, ensuring you do not miss any of these deadlines.
Schedule a Free Consultation with a Pregnancy Discrimination Lawyer
If you believe you are the victim of pregnancy discrimination, schedule a free consultation with an experienced employment lawyer. He or she will advise you on the merits and viability of your case, as well as what type of damages you can expect to collect.