Know Your Rights: Pregnancy Discrimination

We fight discrimination and advance economic security for women and their families.

In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) to try to eliminate the problem. But despite the law, pregnancy discrimination is still a reality for far too many women.

The PDA is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to expressly cover pregnancy discrimination in employment. Title VII prohibits discrimination in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, pay, and other employment benefits. The PDA says that discrimination “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions” constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. The PDA prohibits discrimination based on current pregnancy, past pregnancy, potential or intended pregnancy or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.

Thus, under the PDA, employers may not discriminate against employees or job applicants on the basis of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition. It not only prohibits explicitly discriminatory policies that limit or preclude women from performing specific jobs because they are pregnant or can become pregnant; it also prohibits actions or policies that disparately impact women because they are pregnant or able to become pregnant. For a full description of the PDA and examples of prohibited actions, see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) guidance here.

The PDA only covers employers with 15 or more employees. Pregnant employees may also have additional rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Read more about the FMLA here and more about pregnancy related ADA and Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act coverage here.

No. Under the PDA your employer cannot fire you or unilaterally modify your work because you are pregnant. Your employer must permit you to continue working as long as you are able. If you request a reassignment because of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition, an employer should give it the same consideration as requests from non-pregnant employees.

Some states also have laws that go beyond Title VII and cover pregnancy discrimination for employers with fewer than 15 employees. If you work for an employer with fewer than 15 employees, check with your regional U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau office to see if your state has an agency that can assist you.

No. Under the PDA it is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on pregnancy or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding or litigation as part of a discrimination charge.

Under the PDA, an employer must hold open your job the same length of time a position would be left open for an employee who is on leave because of a temporary disability or medical reason. In other words, if your employer offers leave for a temporarily disabled employee, it must offer comparable leave for a pregnant employee.

Consult your human resources department, employee handbook and or union representative to learn about your employer’s policies for parental leave, sick leave, short-term disability leave and/or FMLA leave that you may be able to use.

No. Any pregnancy-related benefits must be offered to all employees, regardless of marital status.

After you have filed a charge of discrimination, the EEOC will notify your employer of your complaint and begin an investigation. The EEOC may then take a number of different paths to try to reach a resolution:

  • The EEOC may attempt to settle your complaint or may refer you and your employer to a mediator.
  • If you are unable to reach a mutually agreed-upon settlement, and the defendant is a private employer, the EEOC may file a lawsuit in federal court.
  • Finally, the EEOC may simply choose to dismiss the charge or issue you a “right to sue” letter, which will formally notify you of your right to sue in court.

If you decide to file a lawsuit before the EEOC completes its process, you may request a “right to sue” letter earlier on.

Whether or not you have decided to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, consider taking these additional steps:

  • Keep a record of any perceived discrimination. Write down the date, time and place of the incident as soon as possible, and be sure to include what was said and who was there. Keep a copy of these notes at home, as they will be useful if you file a complaint with your company or decide to take legal action.
  • Know your rights. Talk to your human resources department, union representative and/or review your employee handbook to learn about local policies. Your employer may have a designated Equal Employment Opportunity Officer or an established method for resolving complaints, such as mediation.
  • Maintain records of your work. Continue to perform your job well. Keep copies at home of your job evaluations and any letters or memos that demonstrate your good performance. Your boss may try to defend discriminatory actions by criticizing your job performance.  These records will provide evidence to dispute these criticisms.
  • Seek support from friends and family. Discrimination at work is a difficult thing to face alone, and the process of fighting discrimination can be very stressful.
  • Speak to an EEOC counselor. You can contact the EEOC to talk to a counselor about your legal rights whether you choose to file a claim or not. Additionally, the EEOC may investigate and/or offer mediation services to help resolve your complaint.