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Pregnancy Discrimination Under Federal Title VII

Posted on December 13, 2012

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was amended in 1978 to include the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”).  The PDA protects pregnant persons from being discriminated against by their employers because of their pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

The Equal Benefits Clause of the PDA requires that persons affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions be treated the same for employment purposes.  This protects employees or potential employees from discrimination in hiring, pregnancy or maternity leave, health insurance plans, and fringe benefits:
•    Hiring: it is a violation of the PDA to refuse to hire or to fire a person because that person is pregnant or has delivered a child. Further, aborting a pregnancy is considered a related medical condition and therefore falls within the purview of the PDA.  Accordingly, an employer may not refuse to hire or fire an employee for having procured an abortion.

•    Pregnancy/Maternity Leave: if a pregnant person is temporarily unable to perform their essential job duties because of their pregnancy or related medical conditions, that employee must be treated in the same manner as all other employees who suffer from a temporary disability. An employer must hold the employee’s position open for the same length of time for which the employer holds open jobs for employees on sick leave or disability leave. Further, if an employee claims that they are unable to work due to their pregnancy, the employer is prohibited from subjecting the employee to alternate or additional procedures to determine their capacity to work that exceed those to which employees that assert a temporary disability are subjected.

•    Health Insurance Plans: an employer is not obligated to offer pregnancy benefits.  If the employer does so, the plan must treat pregnancy, childbirth and related conditions in the same manner as all other conditions covered by the plan.  However, it is not sex discrimination where the employer does not provide health insurance that covers abortions except where the life of the pregnant person is endangered.  Additionally, the plan may not differentiate between married and unmarried pregnant employees.

•    Fringe Benefits: pregnancy-related benefits cannot be limited to married persons but must also be offered to unmarried persons. If the employer provides any benefits to workers on leave, the same benefits must be offered to those who take leave because of their pregnancy.

In addition, it is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against any employee – whether pregnant or non-pregnant – for opposing employment practices that discriminate on the basis of pregnancy.

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