Know Your Rights:
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

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Pregnant women, including women with pregnancy-related medical conditions, have long faced significant discrimination in the workplace. In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) to try to eliminate pregnancy-based discrimination. Although the PDA has been around for 41 years, pregnancy discrimination is still a reality for many workers.

AAUW is committed to alleviating pregnancy discrimination and ensuring workplace equity in order to advance economic security for women and families. If you have questions about the PDA or want to learn more about pregnancy discrimination in general, this resource will help you get started.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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 but also promotions, assignments, training and benefits.

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

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.

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

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

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

They should not be affected. Employees on leave for pregnancy-related disabilities must be treated equally to employees who are on leave for non-pregnancy-related disabilities with regards to all aspects of employment.

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

If you believe that your employer has discriminated against you based on your pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition, you have the right to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, the federal agency charged with enforcing discrimination laws including Title VII and the PDA.

Under Title VII, in general, you need to file a charge within 180 calendar days from the day the discrimination took place (for example, your last paycheck) in order to preserve your legal rights. The deadline is extended to 300 calendar days if a state or local agency, known as a Fair Employment Practice Agency (“FEPA”), enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis.

You are still able to file a charge within these limitations even if you do not work for the offending employer anymore. Visit the EEOC’s website for full instructions on filing a charge. Even if you aren’t yet ready to file a charge, you can contact the EEOC to speak with a counselor about your legal rights. You do not need to hire a lawyer to file a charge, although it is always best to talk to an attorney or the EEOC before filing a formal complaint.

What will the EEOC do after I have filed a charge of discrimination?

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.

If I’m not yet ready to file a charge, what can I do in the meantime?

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.

I think I need legal assistance. Where can I go?

For more information about finding legal help, read the Legal Advocacy Fund’s guide to legal resources.