Pregnancy discrimination law has become an ever-expanding area of practice for labor and employment attorneys across the U.S. Alarmingly, between 1992 and 2003, pregnancy discrimination claims increased by nearly 40%. This is mainly because many employers are unfamiliar with the myriad of anti-pregnancy discrimination and leave laws that protect women under many state and federal statutes. In other words, lack of knowledge has led to an increasing amount of litigation by women who are terminated or refused leave after informing their employer they are pregnant. Employers often have legitimate reasons to terminate a woman who happens to be pregnant, yet this does not prevent employees from falsely alleging discrimination.
Overall, there are several laws that relate to pregnancy discrimination and leave rights. These include the following:
- Family and Medical Leave Act
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964[J1]
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978
- Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992
Although the FCRA was never amended to specifically provide for claims of pregnancy discrimination, some courts construe it as including these types of claims.
While each of these statutes contains specific requirements for bringing forth pregnancy discrimination claims against employers, most cases typically involve allegations of disparate treatment. Essentially, an employee must prove that her employer treated her unfairly or differently as a direct result of her pregnancy. In response, an employer can raise the following arguments and defenses:
- The employer has never treated any other employee differently, whether due to sickness, disability, pregnancy or any other reason.
- The employer can demonstrate with documented employee records that poor work performance or misconduct – not pregnancy – lead to the employee’s termination.
- The employer has documented procedures in place for disciplining and terminating employees and does so regardless of pregnancy status and other illegal considerations.
- The employer did not know that the employee was pregnant when the alleged disparate treatment occurred.
Employers constantly face the threat of discrimination lawsuits, which can have severe consequences if not properly addressed. It is important to understand the laws that protect employees from discrimination thoroughly, in order to protect your business against claims without merit.