Pregnancy Discrimination: A Closer Look

Pregnancy Discrimination: A Closer Look

The 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act was one of the first major additions to the landmark Civil Rights Act. The PDA expanded gender discrimination to include childbirth and related medical conditions. That definition usually also includes post-pregnancy issues, such as maternity leave and severe postpartum depression.

Although it has been clearly illegal for more than 40 years, pregnancy discrimination is still quite common in Illinois. A Chicago employment lawyer can often obtain substantial compensation in these cases. Perhaps more importantly, a legal claim brings the situation to light, so other pregnant workers need not endure the same emotional pain.

Types of Pregnancy Discrimination

Like many other types of employment bias, there are several kinds of pregnancy discrimination. In many cases, some employers do not feel like they are doing anything wrong. That is arguably the most dangerous kind of workplace bias.

Economic pregnancy discrimination is quite common. Many employers offer maternity leave packages. However, they do not offer these packages out of generosity. It is simply a way to stay competitive and avoid negative publicity.

Therefore, many employers hesitate to hire pregnant women. In fact, it is not unusual for employers to plainly state they do not hire pregnant applicants as a matter of policy.

Other pregnancy bias is more subtle. Frequently, employers reassign pregnant workers to different shifts or different areas of responsibility. These reassignments often involve lower wages and/or less authority.

Such moves might very well be in the best interest of the mother, but that is certainly not always the case. Employers have no right to make such determinations. These decisions are ultimately up to the mothers themselves.

Establishing Discrimination in Court

Pregnancy and most other job bias claims usually involve a three-step process. Some discrimination claims, mostly age bias, work a bit differently.

First, plaintiffs must establish a prima facie discrimination case. That usually means the worker was in a protected class, and the worker suffered an adverse action. 

Protected classes include gender (and, since 1978, pregnancy), national origin, sexual orientation (which usually includes gender identity), and age. The adverse action could be anything from the interview phase forward. Frequently, even an employee’s voluntary separation could be an adverse action. The constructive termination doctrine often applies.

Next, employers can present evidence that they had a discriminatory-neutral reason for the adverse action. Such reasons could be almost anything in at-will employment states like Illinois. Generally, judges resolve these arguments during the pretrial motions phase.

Finally, plaintiffs can argue that the supposed discriminatory-neutral reason was simply a pretext. So, plaintiffs have the last word.

PDA Procedure

A quick word about the procedure in pregnancy bias claims: initially, most claimants must go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for relief. Frequently, the EEOC refuses to represent the plaintiff.

This refusal does not mean your case is weak. It simply means that the EEOC, probably for political reasons, chose not to pursue the case. Furthermore, this federal agency is usually only interested in headline-grabbing matters. If the case does not involve something like a pattern or practice of discrimination, the EEOC typically passes.

So, if the EEOC chose not to take up your claim, do not give up. Have an independent lawyer evaluate your case so you can discover what relief is available.

Contact a Dedicated Lawyer

Pregnancy discrimination comes in many forms. For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago employment lawyer, contact the Law Office of Mitchell A. Kline.