Women in the U.S. workforce today face an uphill battle when they want to maintain a successful career; there’s no denying it.
- Nationally, women earn around 77.5 cents for every dollar that men earn, according to the U.S Dept. of Labor.
- Women in C-level management or specialty positions typically only earn 72 cents for every dollar that men earn in the same high-level positions.
- This same government data shows that women account for 46% of the American workforce.
This all means that nearly half of the country’s labor comes from women, but these working women have to fight more fiercely for well-paying jobs.
When a woman chooses to maintain her career while also starting a family, she will almost certainly encounter a situation at work where she feels as though she’s being discriminated against simply because she’s pregnant. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the number of pregnancy discrimination lawsuits has risen substantially in recent years:
- In 1997, there were 3,900 pregnancy discrimination charges filed with the EEOC.
- In 2013, there were more than 5,300 pregnancy discrimination charges filed.
At Robert A. Klingler, L.P.A., our team of Cincinnati employment attorneys believes that pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is never acceptable. We’re committed to helping and protecting Ohio residents who have been the victims of pregnancy discrimination at work. This assistance starts with educating our readers and clients about the legislation that prohibits pregnancy discrimination at work. Get answers to Gender Discrimination FAQs here.
The Beginning: The Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the first piece of legislation in the U.S. that offered protection against discrimination in the workplace.
Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII specifically states that employers may not discriminate based on an individual’s “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” SEC. 2000e-2. [Section 703] titled “Unlawful Employment Practices,” states that it is unlawful for employers:
- “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” or
- “to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
The legislation is intended to provide protection to both male and female employees—so don’t let the exclusive usage of male pronouns throw you off. As you may have noticed, though, it doesn’t specifically offer protection to employees who are pregnant (or have been pregnant, or plan to become pregnant). There are laws that protect women even after pregnancy while they are still nursing infants.
The Next Step: The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) passed legislation on pregnancy discrimination in 1978 to fill the “gaps” left by the original Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Pregnancy discrimination falls under sex discrimination in the workplace. The EEOC explains:
“The most familiar form of pregnancy discrimination is discrimination against an employee based on her current pregnancy. Such discrimination occurs when an employer refuses to hire, fires, or takes any other adverse action against a woman because she is pregnant, without regard to her ability to perform the duties of the job.”
Pregnancy discrimination is not limited to women who are currently pregnant. This document states that pregnancy discrimination applies to:
- Current Pregnancy
- Past Pregnancy
- Potential or Intended Pregnancy
- Medical Conditions Related to Pregnancy or Childbirth
The Third Step: 2014 PDA Updates
The EEOC updated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) in 2014 because it wasn’t completely effective for eliminating pregnancy discrimination. Instead of creating a new set of protective measures, it was more of an extension of the Americans with Disabilities Act—meaning that pregnant women were often required to prove to their employers that they were “disabled.”
The updates in 2014 state that pregnant employees have the right to ask for—and receive—reasonable accommodations in the workplace even if their pregnancies are completely healthy and normal.
The fact is—and any woman who has been pregnant before will be able to attest to this—that pregnancy leads to many physical and psychological changes in the body, even when the pregnancy is progressing normally.
- Pregnant women often encounter “morning sickness;” despite its name, this specific type of nausea and/or vomiting can occur at any time of the day;
- Pregnant women may also need to have easier and more frequent access to restrooms;
- They may need to take frequent time off for medical appointments, and sometimes without advance notice;
- They may experience extreme fatigue during certain months of their pregnancy (or throughout the entire pregnancy).
All of these symptoms are completely normal, but they certainly don’t make it easier for employees to fulfill their job requirements.
“Reasonable accommodations” can differ quite a bit depending on which symptoms the employee is experiencing, what responsibilities are associated with her job, and what the company can do to mitigate her discomfort without causing too much strain on the company’s wellbeing. Reasonable accommodations, depending on the job, might include more flexibility for last-minute doctor appointments or the option to telecommute on certain days.
There are two very important parts of the PDA which address issues that had not been covered under the general Civil Rights Act of 1964:
- Employers may be required to provide “light duty assignments” to pregnant employees.
- Pregnant employees are protected under federal law, and are legally able to ask for reasonable accommodations, regardless of whether their pregnancy is progressing well or poorly.
These two points are important because they do not require women to prove that they are disabled in order to receive accommodations.
Cincinnati, OH Lawyers for Pregnancy Discrimination
The EEOC explicitly admitted that, “in 2008, a study by the National Partnership for Women & Families found that pregnancy discrimination complaints have risen at a faster rate than the steady influx of women into the workplace. This suggests that pregnant workers continue to face inequality in the workplace.”
It is time for us to work together and banish pregnancy discrimination from American workplaces. Proving that you’ve been the victim of this discrimination won’t be easy, but it is possible in certain cases.
If you’ve experienced discrimination in the workplace related to pregnancy, contact the experienced discrimination attorneys at Robert A. Klingler Co., L.P.A. Depending on the details of your situation, you might be able to file a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit. Our Cincinnati, Ohio legal team is happy to sit down with you for a confidential discussion to determine if filing a discrimination lawsuit is the right choice for you. Contact our office by calling 513-665-9500 or by filling out the short “Request a Meeting” form.