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The Pregnancy Discrimination Act Turns 40 – What’s Changed, What Hasn’t?

It’s been 40 years since members of the United States Congress signed into law legislation known as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. The passage of the PDA came on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the court sided with General Electric, upholding a lower court’s ruling that GE’s temporary disability benefits could exclude pregnancy and childbirth.

The Supreme Court based its decision in part on the notion that not all female employees become pregnant and therefore, pregnancy and childbirth were not subject to the provisions set forth in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which explicitly bars sexual discrimination in employment settings.

Under the PDA, pregnancy and any related medical condition are included as being grounds for sex discrimination. Additionally, the PDA requires employers to treat pregnancy the same as other medical conditions that are covered in insurance and benefits plans. Therefore, pregnant employees who experience physical limitations and impairments should be afforded the same accommodations as employees with similarly impairing injuries or disabilities.

How The PDA Applies Today

Despite the many and significant strides that women have made in the workplace during the past 40 years, pregnancy discrimination remains rampant in many industries and workplaces. Employees who work in minimum-wage and service industry jobs are especially vulnerable to suffering acts of discrimination once a manager or employer learns of or is asked to provide accommodations due to pregnancy. However, no employee who becomes pregnant, regardless of position or industry, is immune to suffering discrimination.

Acts of pregnancy discrimination may include:

  • • Firing a pregnant employee
  • • Laying off a pregnant employee
  • • Refusing to hire a pregnant employee
  • • Harassing a pregnant employee
  • • Refusing to provide accommodations for a pregnant employee
  • • Demoting a pregnant employee
  • • Forcing a pregnant employee to change positions or take time off

Less obvious acts of pregnancy discrimination may include a manager’s or employer’s unsolicited attempts to accommodate a pregnancy. For example, an employer may come to its own decision that a pregnant employee should not travel for a work meeting or represent the company as a presenter at a conference. These acts of sex stereotyping often serve to harm a woman’s career and therefore have direct and adverse financial effects.

If You Suffer Pregnancy Discrimination

Despite being law for 40 years, many employers are not that familiar with the provisions set forth in the PDA. Consequently, employers may violate the PDA and overtly or tacitly discriminate against pregnant employees. If you believe that your firing, demotion or failed promotion is directly linked to your pregnancy, it is important to consult with an employment law attorney.

The circumstances surrounding pregnancy discrimination cases are often highly emotional and place undue stress and financial burdens on pregnant employees and their families. An attorney will review your case and work to build a compelling argument that proves your claims and results in the recovery of just compensation.

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