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Just the facts: What you should know about pregnancy discrimination

Many pregnant women face discrimination in the workplace, both while pregnant and upon returning from maternity leave.

Most workers are aware of federal and state laws preventing certain types of discrimination in the workplace. For example, we have all heard of laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age or disability, meaning that workers cannot be fired, laid off, transferred, demoted, refused a promotion, been not hired, paid less, otherwise treated differently or subjected to other adverse employment actions based on their being part of a "protected class."

Lesser-known - but still extremely important - national and state-level statutes also prohibit bias because of pregnancy and childbirth.

Federal-level protections

At the federal level, pregnancy discrimination is illegal because of protections offered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978. The PDA expanded upon the protections afforded by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, broadening those rights to include women who are pregnant, who have just given birth or who are suffering from pregnancy-related medical conditions. Since being enacted in 1978, the PDA has been amended through legislation and interpreted in countless cases around the country.

A prime example of judicial interpretation is federal cases in circuits across America that have shown that the window of time during which pregnancy-related protections flow to women can be up to four months after childbirth, depending upon when the "adverse employment actions" indicating discrimination occurred.

California state-level protections

In addition to those protections offered by the federal PDA, workers in California are also governed by the state's Fair Employment and Housing Act (namely its provisions on pregnancy) and some portions of the California Family Rights Act. State law prohibits discrimination against female workers solely on the basis of them being pregnant, having given birth, being of child-bearing age or planning to become pregnant.

California law requires that employers provide health insurance coverage for up to four months for a pregnancy-related disability leave. This means that, if a woman's physician feels she should be granted continuous or intermittent disability leave because performing her job duties would be hazardous to herself, co-workers or her unborn child, she may be eligible for unpaid leave. Any leave granted under the FEHA is in addition to the time offered by the CFRA.

The protections enumerated by California state laws cover essentially all significant employment-related actions, specifically:

  • Demotions
  • Pay cuts
  • Refusing to hire
  • Being passed up for promotions
  • Having hours cut
  • Not being assigned particular types of work or projects that the employee is otherwise qualified to accept
  • Being placed in a lower-level, lower-responsibility or lower-paying job upon returning from pregnancy disability or maternity leave
  • Transferring to a position with fewer benefits even though the employee could perform the duties of her prior job while pregnant or upon returning from leave
  • Refusing to make reasonable accommodations for pregnancy-related medical conditions

Have you or someone you love been subjected to bias, discrimination or harassment because of pregnancy, childbirth or a pregnancy-related medical condition? Do you need more information about federal and state legal protections available to you? Would you like to learn more about legal options to seek justice for the harms you have suffered? If so, seek the advice of an experienced California employment law attorney at Caskey & Holzman. We put more than 60 years of combined legal experience to work on behalf of every client.

Keywords: pregnancy discrimination, childbirth discrimination, FMLA, medical leave, gender discrimination

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