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In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act which prohibited employment discrimination based on factors including “sex.” The law did not contain any specific reference to pregnancy. In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy did not necessarily constitute unlawful “sex” discrimination. This was a controversial decision, since the ability to become pregnant or not is inherently related to sex. In 1978, Congress therefore corrected this erroneous Supreme Court decision by passing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The PDA amended the Civil Rights Act in order clarify that discrimination on the basis of “sex” includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and pregnancy related medical conditions. The PDA further provides that employees who are affected by pregnancy or pregnancy related medical conditions must be treated the same as employees who are not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.

Dan Williams, of the firm Magid & Williams, is the author of a legal book relating to the PDA and other federal and state laws providing protection for pregnant workers. Mr. Williams’ book is called The Pregnancy Discrimination Act: A Guide for Plaintiff Employment Lawyers, and is published by the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), one of the most prominent legal publishers in the United States.  Mr. Williams has lectured extensively on the legal rights of pregnant workers at continuing legal education seminars, and has developed a  special interest and passion for representing employees in these kinds of cases.

The application of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to different factual scenarios has resulted in extensive case law. While it is sometimes legal for employers to terminate employees based on pregnancy related absenteeism so long as they would similarly terminate non-pregnant employees who missed the same amount of work, there are numerous exceptions to this. It is not possible for this web site to provide a thorough discussion of all of these exceptions or all of the different complexities that arise in pregnancy discrimination cases. Employees who have been discharged during or near maternity leave and/or who believe that they may have a pregnancy discrimination claim should consult with counsel.

Proof of pregnancy discrimination can take many forms, including suspicious timing, proof that a reason given by the employer is “pretext,” etc. Proof of pregnancy discrimination may also include discriminatory comments related to pregnancy. This may include stereotypical comments regarding the family responsibilities of pregnant women or new mothers, and the perceived inability of these women to be good employees while dealing with the responsibilities of parenthood.

Under appropriate circumstances, pregnant employees or new mothers may also be protected by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Some employees who have high risk or complicated pregnancies may possibly be protected by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) depending upon the severity of the disorder and whether it is considered a “disability.” Further, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2008 requires covered employers to accommodate nursing mothers who need break time to extract breast milk. Again, employees who believe they may have a pregnancy related discrimination claim should consult with counsel.