Personal. Compassionate. Fearless.

What Is Illegal Pregnancy Discrimination At Work?

A strong and compassionate Pennsylvania pregnancy discrimination lawyer can defend your right to be a worker and a mother.

Being pregnant and planning for a new child is difficult enough. Not to mention the fact that children tend to be expensive. As a parent, your job is the means by which you are able to provide for your children. If you’ve been denied the right to work and support your family because you’re pregnant, contact my firm online or call 610-936-6863 for a free consultation. I am William P. Mansour, and my team and I are ready to help.

Examples of negative discriminatory actions include:

  • Termination
  • Refusal to hire or promote
  • Demotion
  • Pay or benefit disparity
  • Failure to provide light duty or other accommodations provided to other temporarily disabled employees
  • Forced medical or maternity leave
  • Denial of ability to breastfeed or express breast milk
  • Denial of ability to take temporary medical leave related to pregnancy
  • Denial of ability to attend doctor appointments related to pregnancy

What Laws Prohibit Workplace Pregnancy Discrimination?

Pregnancy discrimination at work is prohibited by two laws: a federal law called Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and a state law called the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). Some cities and towns, like Philadelphia and Allentown, have their own laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination at work.

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title VII. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) enforces the PHRA.

All these laws generally prohibit the same kind of discriminatory conduct in the workplace. The biggest difference between the laws is to which employers they apply. For example:

  • Title VII applies only to Pennsylvania employers with at least 15 employees.
  • The PHRA applies only to Pennsylvania employers with at least four employees.
  • Local laws usually apply to employers with any number of employees within the town or city.

Chances are, your employer is covered by one of these laws. As a result, an experienced pregnancy discrimination lawyer like me will be able to determine which laws apply to your case.

Who Is Protected From Workplace Pregnancy Discrimination?

Women who were, are or might become pregnant – and women who suffer from pregnancy-related medical conditions – are covered by Title VII and the PHRA. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against a woman because of her capacity to become pregnant. Thus, women must not be discriminated against with regard to job opportunities or benefits because they might get pregnant.

How Do You Prove Pregnancy Discrimination?

To prove workplace pregnancy discrimination, you must typically show that:

  • You are, were or might become pregnant.
  • You were qualified for the position you sought or held.
  • You suffered a negative employment action (termination, demotion, pay cut, etc.).
  • You were treated worse than non-pregnant employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.

However, if you have direct evidence that your employer’s animus toward you due to your past, current or future pregnancy motivated its negative employment action against you, then that is enough to prove a violation of the law. For example, if your employer terminates you because it claims it’s too risky to let a pregnant woman work, that is direct evidence of pregnancy discrimination.

Does The Law Protect You From Workplace Harassment Due To Pregnancy?

Yes. Both Title VII and the PHRA prohibit workplace harassment based on pregnancy. In order to win such a claim, you need to prove the following:

  • You suffered harassment because of your past or current pregnancy.
  • The harassment was severe or pervasive.
  • The harassment negatively affected you.
  • The harassment would have negatively affected a reasonable person in your position.
  • If the harasser was a co-worker, your employer knew or should have known about the harassment and did nothing to prevent or remedy it.

If the harasser was your supervisor and the harassment culminated in you being fired or demoted, then your employer is automatically liable. If, however, your supervisor’s harassment did not result in you being fired or demoted, then your employer will win if it can prove:

  • It had procedures in place for preventing and remedying harassment or discrimination.
  • You unreasonably failed to use those procedures.

Importantly, as discussed more below, the type of damages you can receive for workplace harassment under these laws is different.

Can An Employer Force You To Take A Leave Of Absence Because You Are Pregnant?

No. Your employer can not compel you to take leave because you are pregnant as long as you are able to perform your job. Such an action violates Title VII even if your employer believes it is acting in your best interests.

Can An Employer Prevent You From Breastfeeding Or Expressing Breastmilk During Work Hours?

Under some circumstances, discrimination against female employees who are breastfeeding or lactating can violate Title VII. For example, a manager’s statement that an employee was demoted because of her breastfeeding schedule would strongly suggest that the demotion was based on the pregnancy-related medical condition of lactation and, therefore, illegal.

To continue producing an adequate milk supply and to avoid painful complications associated with delays in expressing milk, a nursing mother will typically need to breastfeed or express breast milk using a pump two or three times over the duration of an eight-hour workday. As a result, an employer will be required to provide lactating employees the same freedom to express their breastmilk that it provides to other employees with similarly limiting medical conditions. For example, if an employer allows employees to change their schedules or use sick leave for routine doctor appointments and to address non-incapacitating medical conditions, then it must allow female employees to change their schedules or use sick leave for lactation-related needs under similar circumstances.

Finally, because only women lactate, a practice that singles out lactation or breastfeeding for less favorable treatment affects only women and, therefore, is facially sex-based. For example, it would be illegal for an employer to freely permit employees to use break time for personal reasons except to express breast milk.

Can An Employer Discriminate Against You Because Of Your Child Care Responsibilities?

After your child is born, your employer may treat you differently because of your caregiving responsibilities. If your current child care responsibilities prevent you from performing your job, your employer may discharge you or take other negative employment actions. This situation would fall outside the parameters of Title VII and the PHRA.

Is An Employer Required To Provide You With Light-Duty Work?

Under Title VII and the PHRA, your employer is required to treat pregnant employees the same as other employees who are temporarily unable to perform some or all of their job duties. This could mean that your employer may be required to provide you with light-duty tasks, alternative assignments or fringe benefits such as disability leave and leave without pay. It is only required to provide these accommodations, however, if it also provides them to temporarily disabled or injured employees who are not pregnant.

How Do You File A Pregnancy Discrimination Claim?

Title VII and the PHRA both require pregnancy discrimination victims to file their claims with the EEOC or the PHRC before going to court. This is called “exhausting administrative remedies.”

If you file your pregnancy discrimination claim with the EEOC in Pennsylvania, it will automatically be filed with the PHRC. The same is true if you file first with the PHRC. While you are not required to have an attorney in order to file the complaint, hiring an experienced pregnancy discrimination lawyer is crucial to your success. Even at this preliminary stage, you must navigate many complex rules and procedures. Therefore, failure to do so can harm your case.

What Is The Deadline To File A Pregnancy Discrimination Complaint With The EEOC Or PHRC?

To protect your pregnancy discrimination claims under Title VII and the PHRA, you must file a complaint with the EEOC or the PHRC within 180 days of your employer’s negative action (e.g., termination, demotion, pay cut). If you file your pregnancy discrimination claim with the EEOC, it will automatically be filed with the PHRC. The same is true if you file first with the PHRC.

If you miss the 180-day deadline, you can still protect your federal pregnancy discrimination claim under Title VII. To do so, you must file your complaint with the EEOC within 300 days of your employer’s negative action. However, you will lose your PHRA claim.

If you do not file your complaints by these deadlines, you may lose your claims forever. That’s why it is important to have an experienced pregnancy discrimination attorney handle the process for you.

What Kind Of Damages Can A Lawyer Obtain For You?

Your experienced pregnancy discrimination lawyer will work to recover compensation for your claim. This compensation is called “damages.” The damages available to you under Title VII and the PHRA are different.

Generally, there are three types of damages you can recover for your pregnancy discrimination claim:

  • Economic damages (e.g., past and future lost wages)
  • Compensatory damages (e.g., emotional distress and humiliation)
  • Punitive damages (intended to punish the employer for intentional misconduct)

Title VII and the PHRA also place limits on the kinds and amounts of damages you can recover if you are illegally discriminated against at work. Under Title VII, for example, there is no cap on economic damages. However, the combined amount of compensatory and punitive damages you can recover is limited based on the size of your employer:

  • For employers with 15 to 100 employees, the combined limit is $50,000.
  • For employers with 101 to 200 employees, the combined limit is $100,000.
  • For employers with 201 to 500 employees, the combined limit is $200,000.
  • For employers with more than 500 employees, the combined limit is $300,000.

Like Title VII, the PHRA does not limit economic damages. Unlike Title VII, however, the PHRA does not limit your compensatory damages and does not allow punitive damages.

The different types of damages available to you under Title VII and the PHRA can be confusing. That is why you should retain an experienced pregnancy discrimination lawyer like me to help you recover the full extent of your damages.

How Long Will It Take To Resolve A Pregnancy Discrimination Case?

Generally, discrimination cases resolve within two years. Some cases may resolve in as little as six months while others may take several years. Your specific case, however, may take more or less time. This will depend on several factors, including:

  • The nature and complexity of your case
  • The number of people you sue
  • The number of witnesses
  • Whether your employer has insurance to cover the claim
  • The kinds and amounts of damages you are claiming
  • The court where you file your lawsuit
  • The willingness of your employer to settle your case

If you handle your pregnancy discrimination case on your own, it can take a lot longer to resolve. This can cause a lot of uncertainty, stress and wasted time. In order to make sure that your case is moving toward resolution, it is necessary to have an experienced workplace discrimination lawyer by your side. For more information, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office by calling 610-936-6863. Free consultations are available, so there is no risk to get started.