Pregnancy litigation cases make up about 20 percent of all employment discrimination lawsuits and that discrimination can take many forms.
Although it is illegal, a woman may not get a job she is qualified for because she is pregnant. Pregnant women have been denied accommodations at work, harassed enough to quit working or passed up for a promotion or special project. Pregnant women have also been fired or forced to go on unpaid leave.
According to a study by the National Partnership for Women and Families, between October 2010 and September 2015, nearly 31,000 charges of pregnancy discrimination were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and state agencies, despite the fact that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed 40 years ago.
Some recent litigation cases show that pregnancy discrimination continues to happen, but it’s important to know your rights and take action when you face discrimination.
In 2011, Belinda Murillo filed a suit against a Phoenix-area Subway franchise, covered by Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. When she applied to work at the franchise, the general manager told her that the franchise could not hire her because she was pregnant. A jury of five men and two women awarded her damages.
Since some jobs require work that may be difficult or dangerous during pregnancy, employers must provide accommodations for pregnant workers. When Peggy Young, a UPS employee, told her manager she could not lift heavy boxes because of her pregnancy, she was forced to go on unpaid leave, which also meant she lost her medical coverage. She felt it was unfair because workers with temporary disabilities and injuries were given light duty work. Young filed a suit accusing UPS of failing to provide reasonable accommodations. Young initially lost in district and appeals courts but proved her case in the U.S. Supreme Court, which asked the district courts to review the case again. By refusing Young accommodations it was ruled that the company did not treat a pregnant woman’s ability to work as “other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”
A similar case happened in 2018 when Whitney Tomlinson’s doctor told her to avoid lifting heavy items at work while she was pregnant. Tomlinson told her supervisor at a Walmart Distribution Center and expected to have accommodations since she had seen coworkers with temporary injuries get accommodations that allowed them to avoid heavy lifting. Her request was denied and she was forced to take an unpaid leave of absence, so she filed a complaint against Walmart with the EEOC. The case is still pending, but it’s not the first pregnancy discrimination case that Walmart has faced. In 2002, Walmart had to pay $220,000 to settle with a woman who was not rehired because she was pregnant.
One form of pregnancy discrimination is harassment at work. In 2008, Marlena Santana, Yasminda Davis, and Melissa Rodriguez, filed a lawsuit against G.E.B. Medical Management, Inc., and its owner. The administrative workers claimed that after their employer learned they were pregnant, they were harassed, discriminated against, and later fired. They each were awarded damages and lost wages, totalling nearly $6.2 million.
Being fired while pregnant or recovering from childbirth can mean losing your health insurance at a time when having insurance is essential. In 2012, Roxy Leger was fired from her job and lost her health insurance while she was still in the hospital recovering from a cesarean section. Leger filed a claim with the EEOC and eventually received $148,340 in damages.
Nasty Gal, a clothing company in Los Angeles was sued by four former employees, three of whom were pregnant and one of whom was a father about to take paternity leave. One of those employees, Aimee Concepcion, was laid off despite getting glowing performance reviews. While the company claimed that the terminations were part of a bigger company-wide layoff, the four people they let go were expectant or recent parents. The lawsuit is still pending.
As a pregnant worker, it’s important to know your rights, which are covered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law protects women from discrimination in hiring practices, from being harassed at work or refused accommodations, and also from being fired because they are pregnant.