The number of lawsuits involving pregnancy discrimination has increased significantly over the past decades. The Equal Employment Opportunity commission reports that pregnancy discrimination complaints have risen from 3,300 a year in 1992 to 4,900 a year in 2006.
There are likely several reasons why the number of pregnancy discrimination complaints are increasing, which includes: an unprecedented number of women in the workplace, greater awareness of discrimination laws, women taking less time work off due to pregnancy, stereotypes persisting about pregnant women, and new laws that offer an increased number of ways to receive remedies due to discrimination.
In many cases, pregnancy discrimination is built on old-fashioned and outdated stereotypes about what pregnant women, or new mothers, can and should do.
At Will Employment Agreements
In the state of Texas, employment is considered to be “at will” which means that an employer can terminate the employer/employee relationship at any time for any reason. If the decision to terminate this relationship was due to any discriminatory reason, however, including pregnancy, an employee might be able to pursue a claim against their employer.
An employer is prohibited by several applicable laws from refusing to hire a pregnant woman due to the woman’s pregnancy. Employers are also prohibited from discriminating against a pregnant employee in areas concerning job assignments, layoffs, promotions, termination, training, or transfer.
Types of Pregnancy Discrimination
Pregnancy discrimination can occur in a variety of ways, which includes:
- Employers who fire employees who are pregnant.
- Employers who refuse to hire an individual who becomes pregnant.
- Employers who force a pregnant individual to stop working.
- Employers who deny individuals promotions due to pregnancy.
- Employers who treat pregnant workers different from other disabled workers.
- Employers who deny individuals the same or similar job when the individual returns from a pregnancy leave.
- Employers who allow information about an individual’s plans to have children to influence the hiring process.
- An employer’s actions that are in any way influenced by the idea that motherhood and work are incompatible.
In order to demonstrate that pregnancy discrimination has occurred, an individual must establish that an employer knew of the pregnancy and that the pregnancy was the specific reason for the adverse employment decision.
Pregnant individuals must also establish that they were sufficiently qualified for the position and that their job performance met reasonable expectations by the employer
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
Pregnancy discrimination is a particular form of gender discrimination in the workplace, which is covered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of an employee’s pregnancy and is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The Act only applies to employers who have fifteen or more employees.
For the purposes of this Act, the definition of “employee” is expansive and includes many employees with the exception of independent contractors and business executives.
When an individual becomes pregnant, an employer must treat the individual’s condition as a temporary disability, which means that the pregnant worker must be treated in the same way as any other worker with a temporary disability.
Pregnant women must be afforded the option to change duties to accommodate their disability. The accommodation must be reasonable and can include assistance with how an individual performs their job to ensure that the individual is able to perform the essential functions of the occupation.
Federal and Texas law do not require employers to treat pregnant individuals in a more favorable way than other employees. As a result, if an employer does not offer accommodations to anyone, the employer does not have to accommodate pregnant employees. Under this Act, pregnant employees must also be allowed to continue working by an employer provided that the individual is capable of performing the duties of their job.
In some cases, an individual might experience pregnancy or childbirth related health conditions that create a disability. In these cases where disabilities arise after the pregnancy, many times individuals are able to continue to seek reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Family Medical Leave Act
Another important federal law that applies to pregnant workers is the Family Medical Leave Act which entitles pregnant workers to a total of twelve workweeks of leave during any twelve month period due to the birth of a child. Employees who are denied this right are also likely to be the victims of pregnancy discrimination. An employee might have earned the ability to be paid during this period.
It is also worth noting that these laws concerning medical leave also apply to people who are foster parents or who have adopted a child. While some states have additional laws concerning family and medical leave, the state of Texas does not have additional types of these laws.
Applicable State Law in Texas
Texas’ Commission on Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and the various medical conditions that can arise due to pregnancy. Similar to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Texas law prohibits discrimination by employers with at least fifteen employees, which means that these types of charges are sometimes prohibited from being brought against smaller employers.
The Commission on Human Rights Act prohibits pregnancy discrimination and requires that all pregnant employees be treated the same as other individuals who are similar in ability and unable to work.
If a business has fewer than fifteen employees, there are no applicable employment laws relating to pregnancy discrimination and the company would be free to handle a situation in way that the company deemed appropriate.
Compensation for Pregnancy Discrimination
Compensation for harm caused by pregnancy discrimination can involve a variety of remedies. Many pregnant individuals receive their job back through a process called reinstatement. In many cases, however, the remaining friction between an employee and an employer is too tense after pregnancy discrimination occurs for reinstatement to be considered.
Some of the other remedies that might be awarded include lost wages, compensation until an individual finds a new job, court costs, compensation for emotional pain and suffering, and punitive damages which are rarely awarded and designed to punish employers.