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Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) is a federal employment law that specifies the rights and responsibilities of employees and employers.  This Act amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to provide protection against sex discrimination based on pregnancy.  The federal agency charged with enforcing this law is the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Pregnancy and Employment

Over the years, pregnant employees have faced considerable discrimination at work.  Many workers assume that federal and state legislation that falls under employment law has effectively ended this discrimination.  This unfortunately is not true.

Analytics suggest that about three-fourths of the 68 million U.S. women who are employed will experience a pregnancy sometime during their lives.  Researchers from Rice University and George Mason University have confirmed that females who looked pregnant when they applied for jobs faced patronizing behavior.  Some also experienced hostility.  Congress passed the PDA to help alleviate the pregnancy-related injustices employees have faced for decades.

Discrimination has not stopped, even with passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  More than 3,900 charges of pregnancy discrimination were filed with federal, state, and local agencies in 1997.  The number soared to more than 5,300 by fiscal year 2013.  Passage of the PDA provides a vehicle by which a pregnant employee can address discrimination grievances.

Employee Rights

PDA protection isn’t limited to pregnancy alone.  The law also prohibits discrimination on the basis of childbirth or related conditions.   The legislation was a vehicle designed to respond to a Supreme Court decision that said that pregnancy discrimination did not meet the criteria of sex discrimination per the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

These are the most important PDA provisions for an employee who is pregnant or plans to become pregnant:

*The law only covers employers with at least 15 employees.

*Anti-discrimination provisions pertain to both employees and job applicants.

*Bases include both pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions.

*The legislation also covers firing, pay, promotion, and additional employment benefits.

*Policies that disparately affect women due to pregnancy or those who are able to become pregnant are prohibited.

*Employers must permit pregnant employees to work as long as they are able.

*An employer cannot retaliate against an employee who files a complaint or who testifies or participates in any investigation or proceeding related to Title VII.

*Employers must hold open the job of an employee on pregnancy leave as long as that job would remain open for any employee who takes leave because of illness or disability.

*Employers must offer pregnancy-related benefits regardless of marital status.

*Leave calculations and related benefits must be calculated the same way for employees on pregnancy leave and for those on disability leave not related to pregnancy.

Supreme Court Clarification

In 2015, the Supreme Court rendered an important decision that provided clarification of the PDA.  The opinion of the majority of the justices held that the plaintiff, a former part-time truck driver who picked up air shipments for UPS, could sue that employer on the basis of pregnancy discrimination.  While she was pregnant, UPS refused to assign her to a less-demanding shift after a healthcare provider ordered her to avoid lifting heavy objects.

According to the plaintiff’s petition, her former manager said their employer gave light-duty assignments to employees in a number of circumstances—such as disorders under the Americans with Disabilities Act—but not to those who were pregnant.  UPS also refused to allow her to resume her regular job, viewing her lifting restrictions as a liability issue.

While many interpreted the ruling as a resounding victory for pregnant employees, the Supreme Court did not rule on the actual merits of the former driver’s case.  The justices instead sent the case back to a lower court for a ruling on whether UPS discriminated against the plaintiff.

Attorneys who practice labor law continue to view the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 as a major source of protection for employees.  A number of other federal, state, and local laws also protect against pregnancy-related discrimination.

Contact a Lawyer

If you or a loved one have been discriminated against while pregnant, you need an experienced attorney on your side. Contact The Wood Law Office, LLC to schedule a consultation today.