EEOC on a Pregnancy Anti-Discrimination Drive | DCR Workforce Blog

EEOC on a Pregnancy Anti-Discrimination Drive

pregnancy at workWomen born in 1978 – the year the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed as an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – are now 36 years old. Do they find the workplace to be more supportive to them during pregnancy than their mothers did in the past? Sadly, the answer is no. Pregnancy discrimination remains prevalent:

  • According to EEOC data, 3,745 pregnancy discrimination charges were filed with the agency in 2012, which is 240 fewer cases than in 2011. When combined with the Fair Employment Practices Agency charges, the 2011 number jumps to nearly 5,800. While the joint agency data shows a decline over the last four years, it also exposes a 35 percent uptick of filings between 1997 and 2008. That increase is drastically higher—65 percent—when analyzing EEOC charges filed between the 1992 and 2007 fiscal years.
  • The EEOC also reports that 1 in 5 discrimination charges leveled by women are associated with pregnancy.
  • In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the EEOC handled 52,000 pregnancy cases that amounted to $150.5 million in damage.

Women in lower paying roles are more susceptible to pregnancy discrimination. In fact, 33 percent of pregnancy discrimination claims—or more than 15,200 total cases—filed between 1996 and 2005 were in the service industry (meaning education, healthcare, leisure and hospitality, and other services). According to a 2005 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, women accounted for over 48 percent of workers in those combined sectors. In contrast, white-collar industries, such as finance, insurance, and real estate, only received about 3,000 filings. However, pregnancy discrimination is harder to identify in managerial and professional occupations. Whereas violations are more deliberate in traditionally lower-wage work, white-collar inequity is often disguised as conjecture around a pregnant worker’s desire to take on additional tasks or concern for their ability to handle current workloads. Women are protected from pregnancy discrimination by many laws – Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Family Medical Leave Act, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act, in its amended form. Pregnancy discrimination law covers aspects of employment like hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, such as leave and health insurance, as well as any other terms or conditions of employment. The law doesn’t give pregnant women any special rights: It only prevents employers from treating pregnant employees differently from other employees. For example, if an employer gives light duty assignments to other employees with temporary disabilities, it must also give such assignments to employees who are temporarily unable to do their usual job due to pregnancy. These laws apply equally to all workers, whether their tenure is temporary or permanent. Keep in mind that, depending upon the situation, a temporary employee could be considered an employee of his or her temporary agency, an employee of the agency’s customer, or both.

Depending on the applicable Federal and State laws, some of the actionable adverse actions against a pregnant woman would include,

  • Refusing to interview qualified candidates who are pregnant
  • Asking her to go on leave, on account of a real or perceived pregnancy
  • Transferring her to another position, against her objections, unless required by legitimate operational needs
  • Passing her up for promotion on account of a real or perceived pregnancy
  • Refusing to make reasonable temporary accommodations to work responsibilities during pregnancy
  • Retaliatory acts against her for opposing discriminatory acts under the Fair Employment and Housing Act
  • Refusing leave to her as prescribed under the FMLA
  • Pleading business exigencies and refusing to re-instate her in her previous job and duties; unless there is a genuine reason like the plant being closed or the company instituting mass lay-offs
  • Failing to let the employee know of the available positions to the employee, to which she may be reinstated within a 60 calendar-day period (from the earlier limit of 10 days) from the scheduled date of re-instatement

Only a short-sighted company makes survival difficult for qualified employees or creates a work environment which drives people away. Managers need to recognize that family is an integral and important aspect of anyone’s life – whether male or female. Given the integral role played by women in the process, it is necessary to support women during pregnancy. Such changed attitudes could improve the participation of women in the workforce, while reducing the number of women who leave it permanently on account of it.

Better enforcement of existing laws and enhanced guidance to employers on how to comply is needed. If the above argument is not convincing enough; it may be interesting to note that the EEOC is concerned that employers are taking advantage of the lack of awareness among female employees when they blatantly practice pregnancy discrimination against them. The EEOC announced recently that pregnancy discrimination, particularly in the form of pregnant employees being denied light duty and other accommodations, was an enforcement priority for the agency. It is committed to remedying the lack of information among women about the protections afforded them by law and helping them to assert their rights.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.