Know Your Rights:
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

Pregnant woman sits at laptop


Other Materials

About 75 percent of the 68 million women working in the United States will become pregnant at some point in their lives. Historically, pregnant women and women with pregnancy-related medical conditions faced significant discrimination in the workplace. In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) in an effort to eliminate pregnancy-based discrimination. Although the PDA and lawsuits filed under the PDA have helped alleviate some long-standing injustices, pregnancy discrimination is still a reality for many workers. AAUW is committed to alleviating pregnancy discrimination and ensuring workplace equity.

Even though the PDA has been in force for more than thirty years, pregnant women continue to face negative stereotypes and unfair treatment. A study in the United Kingdom showed that 76 percent of employers surveyed would not hire a woman if they knew she would become pregnant in the next six months. Other recent studies, conducted by researchers from George Mason University and Rice University, found that women who appeared pregnant while applying for jobs faced the risk of patronization or even hostility. AAUW continues to fight for workplace equity.

plus-icon TO EXPAND

What is the PDA and how does it protect my rights?

The PDA amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to expressly cover pregnancy discrimination. The PDA provides that discrimination “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. Thus, under the PDA, employers may not discriminate against employees or job applicants on the basis of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition.

The PDA prohibits discrimination in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, pay, and other employment benefits. It not only prohibits facially discriminatory policies that limit or preclude women from performing specific jobs simply because they are fertile or pregnant but also prohibits actions or policies which disparately impact women because they are pregnant or able to become pregnant. Importantly, however, the PDA only covers employers with 15 or more employees.

I just found out that I am pregnant. Can my employer fire me or reassign me?

No. Under the PDA, an employer with 15 or more employees cannot fire you because you are pregnant, and your employer must permit you to continue working as long as you are able. Some states have laws that cover 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.

Can I be fired for filing a complaint against my employer if I believe she or he has violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act?

No. 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 under Title VII.

I was bypassed for a major promotion because I am pregnant. Is this legal?

No. The PDA covers all aspects of employment, not just hiring and firing.

If I take leave due to pregnancy, how long must my employer hold my job open?

An employer must hold open your job the same amount of time a position would be left open for an employee who is on leave because of sickness or disability.

Are my benefits altered if I am pregnant but not married?

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

How are my pay increases, vacation calculations and accrual, and credits of service affected by my pregnancy-related disabilities and leave?

Employees on leave for pregnancy-related disabilities must be treated the same with respect to any benefit, accrual, and vacation calculation as employees who are on leave for non-pregnancy-related disabilities.

What should I do if I believe my employer has discriminated against me based on my pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition?

You have the right to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency charged with enforcement many anti-discrimination laws including the PDA.Don’t wait if you want to file a charge: in most cases, you must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC within 180 days of the discriminatory action in order to preserve your legal rights. You can file a charge even if you do not work for your employer anymore, and you do not need to hire a lawyer in order to file a charge. Go to the EEOC’s website for instructions on filing a charge of discrimination. Even if you aren’t ready to file a charge, you can contact the EEOC to speak with a counselor about your legal rights. The EEOC may investigate and/or offer mediation services to help resolve the complaint. Additionally, most states and local governments have a human rights or civil rights office that can help.

Whether or not you have decided to file a charge with the EEOC, consider taking these steps as well:

  1. Write down what happened. Write down the date, time, and place of the incident as soon as possible. Include what was said and who was there. Keep a copy of these notes at home. They will be useful if you decide to file a complaint with your company or to take legal action.
  2. Talk to your union representative. Union rules often allow you to file a grievance. If you don’t have a union, call a women’s or civil rights group for help.
  3. Talk to your employer. Your company may have an Equal Employment Opportunity Officer or a way for you to file a complaint. For instance, some companies have new ways to resolve problems, like mediation. Check your employee handbook for procedures.
  4. Keep doing a good job and keep a record of your work. Keep copies at home of your job evaluations and any letters or memos that show that you do a good job at work. Your boss may criticize your job performance later on in order to defend his or her discrimination.
  5. 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.

If you are interested in speaking with an attorney, your local bar association can offer you a referral to a qualified attorney. Read more about finding legal aid organizations near you.

Even though it is now 30 years after the PDA was passed, cases involving pregnancy discrimination continue to come before the courts. To read about recent litigation involving the PDA, please see “The Pregnancy Discrimination Act: Recent Cases.”