Pregnancy Discrimination

Pregnancy discrimination is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Under this Act an employer cannot make an employment decision based on a stereotype of the capabilities of pregnant women, for instance, refusing to promote an otherwise qualified pregnant woman based on a belief that a pregnant woman will not return to work because “all women want to stay home with their kids.”

At Spiggle Law, we are one of the few private firms in the nation that focus on workplace pregnancy discrimination cases. In fact, we are so passionate about protecting pregnant workers and caregiver rights that the founder of Spiggle Law, respected trial lawyer and former federal prosecutor Tom Spiggle, has written a book entitled You’re Pregnant? You’re Fired.

If you believe you have been or are being discriminated against because of your pregnancy or caregiving responsibilities, we can help. As your advocates and advisers, we will help you to stand up for your rights and fight back against illegal discriminatory practices.

Three Things You Can Do Right Now.
  1. Tell your company in writing that you are pregnant.
  2. If you suspect discrimination, report it to human resources in writing.
  3. If you find yourself holding a pink slip, call the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And, as always, contact a lawyer.

Frequently Asked Questions

My company doesn’t yet know that I’m pregnant. Should I tell my boss or someone in HR?

I take it from your question that you are not showing! There is no one right answer here. Clearly, there are privacy concerns about revealing this information. For instance, most people don’t want to announce before the first trimester in case of miscarriage. The tricky part is that, if your company would be inclined to fire you for being pregnant, it might be difficult to prove that it did so, if you don’t have evidence that it knew. So, if your boss overhears you talking to your best friend about which stroller to buy and surmises that you are pregnant, it will be difficult to prove that was his motivation if, the next day, he decides that he doesn’t need a pregnant employee (and is smart enough not to admit it). In contrast, if you sent him an e-mail the prior week with the subject heading “I’m pregnant!” then it’s an entirely different story if he subsequently hands you a pink slip.

My company has 14 employees, so it just misses the 15-employee threshold for federal law to apply. Do I have any legal protection if my boss tries to let me go?

You are right that your employer is not bound by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act if it has fewer than 15 employees. There are a couple of things to note here. First, the EEOC is expansive in how it gets to 15. It includes any workers who could be considered employees of the company, even part-time employees. For instance, let’s say your company has 14 employees in the office. However, it turns out that the boss employs his sister full time as a bookkeeper but improperly classifies her as a contractor. The EEOC will likely find that the company has the required 15 employees for the purposes of federal employment law. Second, let’s assume your company does really only have 14 employees. It is possible that you have some protection under state law or even a county ordinance. For instance, the D.C. Human Rights Law, which protects pregnant employees, applies to all companies within the District, regardless of the number of employees. If you are in Arlington, Virginia, you are covered by the Arlington County Human Rights Code, which covers any employer with four or more employees. But sadly, it is possible that you have little protection if your state or county does not have a law covering employers with 14 or fewer employees.

I work as an accountant for a small firm in South Carolina. We have five employees, including me, and I am pregnant. I like the owner a lot. He has been a mentor to me. Our company was recently purchased by a big accounting firm in D.C. with some 200 employees. My owner said that everyone would be offered a position there, and that I could work remotely from South Carolina. But last week, he came to me and said that, unfortunately, the new accounting firm in D.C. said that “it wouldn’t work” to hire me too. He was very apologetic and said that he would help me find a new job in the industry. He is a well-known figure in my specialized area of accounting, so his recommendation carries weight. I bet he can find me another job. Then later he offered me an “early end-of-year bonus.” It was nice but strange because, well, it’s not the end of the year. My question is, do I have a case? If I do, is it worth it to sue?

The short answer is, yes, you have a case. Your old boss isn’t covered by federal law because of the size of the firm. But there is no question that the D.C. firm is covered by the D.C. Human Rights Act as well as federal law. And you can be sure that the last thing the company wants is a lawsuit by a high-performing pregnant employee. If you bring the case and win, you’d be entitled to lost wages, which you haven’t accrued much of, emotional distress damages, punitive damages and possibly front wages. I’m assuming that you’ll likely be able to get a new job soon. So you don’t stand much to gain in the wage of a recovery for wages. Certainly you could be awarded something for the emotional distress, but likely not much:$10 to $20 thousand. A jury might award punitive damages against the big bad company but not likely against your boss, who knows this is wrong and at least is trying to make it right. But regardless of the price tag on your claim, there is no question that if you threaten a lawsuit, any goodwill between you and your boss will dry up quickly. If you feel strongly about this and are willing to tank your relationship with your boss, then you have something to pursue. But it sounds like this may be an instance where the cost-benefit analysis tilts in favor of moving on while milking your boss’ appropriately guilty conscience for an entry to a different and perhaps better job.

I have a unique problem. It’s not that my boss dislikes that I am pregnant – it’s that he seems to like it too much. Ever since I started showing, he stops and lingers at my desk, which he never used to do before. He even says things to me like, “There’s nothing more attractive than a woman with child.” First, of all, eww! This makes my skin crawl. But I want to know if this possibly counts as pregnancy discrimination.

Blech! The short answer to your question is that this does not (yet) count as pregnancy discrimination, but it might turn into a violation of the law if you end up demoted or fired because, it turns out that this letch also holds the view that women “with child” should not get promoted or perhaps even work at all. Even assuming that doesn’t happen, this is approaching hostile work environment territory. If your company has an internal grievance policy, use it, even if you think it is not worth the paper it is printed on (and many aren’t). The reason is that your company may have a rock-solid defense to much of what your manager does if you fail to report it to the company. But if your boss ups his game and does something like make a pass at you or even touches you in a sexual way, it’s a whole different ballgame. In addition being squarely in hostile work environment territory, your boss may also be criminally or civilly liable under assault and battery laws.

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