Shockingly, data shows that the number of federal pregnancy discrimination lawsuits has been steadily increasing since 2016. 2021 is currently on-track to become another record year.
Surprisingly, the increasing number of federal pregnancy discrimination lawsuits does not correlate with the declining birth rate in the United States over the same time period. While the number of lawsuits has climbed, the birth rate has simultaneously fallen.
According to research by Bloomberg Law, 235 federal pregnancy discrimination cases were filed in 2016. In 2020, there were almost 400 federal cases and 2021 is expected to exceed 400 such cases. However, since 2014, the birth rate has decreased in the United States by about 2% a year and there was an even more dramatic drop with a 4% reduction in 2020.
What Constitutes Pregnancy Discrimination?
Under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and state pregnancy discrimination laws, employers cannot discriminate against pregnant women in their:
- Hiring and firing practices
- Pay, benefits, and other compensation
- Job assignments
- Training opportunities
Although federal law does not require employers to make accommodations for pregnant employees, California and New York law are two of the30 states that have imposed laws that do require reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees.
Pregnant workers may soon gain federal protection for accommodation if the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) passes the U.S. Senate. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in May and was introduced to the Senate in August.
Why are we Seeing Higher Rates of Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuits?
Many factors have likely contributed to the increase in federal pregnancy discrimination lawsuits despite the declining birth rate. In an effort to reduce spending during the pandemic, companies may have been more likely to fire pregnant workers, who are more expensive to retain due to parental leave or the perception that they were not working productively remotely because of childcare conflicts.
Further, employers may have been hesitant to keep pregnant women in their regular job functions because of speculation as to how COVID-19 could adversely affect pregnant women and their unborn babies, leading employer to terminate more pregnant women from their positions. Moreover, unemployed pregnant women often have more difficulty gaining new employment particularly during an economic downturn. Generally, someone who is unable to find new work is more likely to file a legal claim against their past employer to recoup necessary financial assistance.
However, the pandemic alone does not adequately explain why the number of claims has been on the rise since 2016. There seems to be a larger problem of how pregnant women are viewed and treated in the workforce at large. If anyone believes they have experienced pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, they should contact AMG for a free, confidential consultation to explore their options.