Austin Pregnancy Discrimination Attorney
Laws Protecting Pregnant Workers
“[Congress] designed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act specifically to address the stereotype that ‘women are less desirable employees because they are liable to become pregnant’ . . . and to insure that the decision to work while pregnant ‘was reserved for each individual woman to make for herself.'”–The Court in Maldonado v. U.S. Bank, 186 F.3d 759 (7th Cir. 1999).
“What better time to stand up for your rights than when you’re bringing a new person into the world–you want your child to learn the difference between right and wrong, and you need a job and insurance to afford the baby.”–Eve Tahmincioglu, writing for MSNBC.com
Both Federal and Texas law make it illegal for an employer (with more than 15 employees) to discriminate against a woman on the basis of pregnancy. Under Federal law, this protection for women in the workplace arises from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. The Act states that it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee in the workplace on the basis of sex. Furthermore, the Act, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, defines on the “basis of sex” as including “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” Finally, the Act states that “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes . . . as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work. . . .” Under Texas law, women employees are offered almost exactly the same protections under Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code, Sections 21.051 and 21.106.
In addition to Title VII and the Texas Labor Code, the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA“) provides that eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year “for the birth of a son or daughter of the employee and in order to care for such son or daughter.” Unfortunately, the FMLA does not apply to all employees, but in general only to those employees that have worked for an employer for 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours of service for that employer. Moreover, the FMLA generally only applies to employees who work for an employer who employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite. The FMLA makes it illegal for an employer “to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise” FMLA rights. It is illegal for an employer to terminate an eligible employee for taking FMLA leave.
Lastly, in some instances, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the similar state law in the Texas Labor Code, may provide certain protections for pregnant employees. While the law in this area is still being developed and is uncertain, courts have found that the ADA may provide protection, under some circumstances, for women who experience complications from pregnancy. Generally, the ADA requires employers to reasonably accommodate the known disabilities of otherwise qualified employees unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer. An employee is qualified for protection under the ADA if she has “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Where a complication from pregnancy may be found to be such an impairment, an employee may have rights under the ADA.
Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination and Discrimination Against Working Mothers
- An employer fires you because you are pregnant.
- An employer refuses to hire you because you are pregnant or may become pregnant.
- An employer forces you to stop work because you are pregnant if you are willing and able to work.
- An employer denies you a promotion because you are pregnant or may become pregnant.
- An employer treats you differently from other disabled workers if you are pregnant.
- An employer denies you the same or similar job when you return from a pregnancy-related leave.
- A potential employer questions you about your plans to have children as a factor in their hiring decision.
- An employer refuses to promote you because you have kids and it believes you should stay home with the kids.
- An employer discriminates against you because it believes that motherhood and work are incompatible.
Lawsuits for Pregnancy Discrimination and Discrimination Against Working Mothers
Lawsuits against employers involving pregnancy discrimination or family responsibilities discrimination have grown dramatically over the past decade and even the last few years. According to the EEOC, pregnancy discrimination complaints (formal charges with the EEOC or equivalent state agency) have grown from approximately 3300 a year in 1992 to 4900 a year in 2006. Several news articles recently have been written regarding this surprising increase in the amount of pregnancy discrimination complaints. For example:
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Where We Stand 30 Years Later
- MSNBC.com, “When Becoming a Mom Means Losing Your Job”, March 31, 2006.
- USA Today, “Pregnant Workers Report Growing Discrimination”, February 16, 2005.
- MSNBC.com, “Pregnancy Discrimination is On The Rise”, May 21, 2007.
- The Christian Science Monitor, “The Problem of a Pregnant Pause,” July 2006.
While it is difficult to point to one specific reason for the increase in lawsuits alleging pregnancy or family responsibilities discrimination, scholars have suggested several reasons for the recent uptick in cases. These reasons include: (1) A record number of women in the workplace; (2) Greater awareness of employees of employment discrimination laws; (3) Women working longer into pregnancy or returning sooner after pregnancy; (4) Persistence of stereotypes and increasing discrimination; (5) Productivity pressures; (6) New laws providing for more remedies for this type of discrimination; and (7) a Generational shift in attitudes.
In addition to the increase in these cases, Plaintiffs are having greater success in these types of lawsuits than in other discrimination lawsuits. For example, in “Litigating the Maternal Wall: U.S. Lawsuits Charging Discrimination Against Workers with Family Responsibilities,” the authors found that these cases are successful more than fifty percent of the time and that the median award is over $100,000. While the reason for the high success rate of these cases is not fully known, one scholar has said that such results occur because these are “family value cases.”
What to Do if Your Employer Discriminates Against You Regarding Your Pregnancy or Because You Are a Working Mom
Contact an attorney immediately, and preferably an attorney who routinely represents employees in employment litigation. If you are not able to contact an attorney, you should contact either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Texas Workforce Commission, Civil Rights Division. To preserve your rights under the law for pregnancy discrimination, you must act quickly and typically must follow certain procedural steps, such as filing a charge of discrimination with either the EEOC or TWC. Lastly, take thorough notes regarding everything discriminatory that is being said or done to you and keep all records related to your employment. These notes and records may prove invaluable in a later lawsuit.
Additional Resources Discussing Pregnancy Discrimination and Discrimination Against Working Mothers
- EEOC Information on Pregnancy Discrimination
- Workplace Fairness Web Site, Offering Detailed Information on Pregnancy Discrimination Laws
- UC Hastings College of the Law Work Life Law Web Site, Offering a Discussion of Family Responsibilities Discrimination
- National Partnership for Women & Families, Information on Workplace Discrimination and a Link to a Fact Sheet on Pregnancy Discrimination
- Pregnancy Info-Net, Providing Information on Handling Pregnancy Issues in the Workplace
If you feel that you have experienced pregnancy discrimination or family responsibilities discriminationÂ and wish to speak to a Texas pregnancy discrimination attorney at the Cook Law Firm, please submit a case review form.