What Is Pregnancy Discrimination in California?
What Is Pregnancy Discrimination in California?

What Is Pregnancy Discrimination in California?

When pregnancy discrimination occurs in the workplace, a San Francisco employment discrimination lawyer can help

Pregnancy discrimination is prohibited by both federal and state law. While the laws are similar, California law covers more employees than federal law. Employees who believe they have been treated unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition should seek advice from an employment discrimination lawyer in San Francisco.

Pregnancy Discrimination Is Sex Discrimination

The primary federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in employment is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When Title VII was enacted, Congress prohibited employers from making adverse employment decisions on the basis of sex, but did not expressly prohibit making those decisions on the basis of pregnancy.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1974 that discriminating on the basis of pregnancy is not sex-based discrimination. The Court rejected the argument that only women can get pregnant and that basing employment decisions on a condition that only affects women is necessarily an act of sex discrimination.

The Court also failed to recognize that pregnancy discrimination often results from gender-based stereotypes. For example, some employers believe that female employees will not return to work after a pregnancy because they will want to stay home and raise their child. Gender stereotyping may therefore motivate employers to fire pregnant workers before they take a maternity leave.

Responding to public outrage at the Supreme Court’s failure to recognize that pregnancy discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, Congress enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The PDA amended Title VII to define sex discrimination as including discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or a pregnancy-related health condition.

The intent of the PDA is to prevent employers from treating pregnant employees less favorably than other employees because of their pregnancies. Employees who are not sure whether they have been subjected to unlawful pregnancy discrimination in California should seek legal advice from a San Francisco employment discrimination lawyer.

California Pregnancy Discrimination

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) provides similar protections to pregnant employees. However, while Title VII’s prohibition of pregnancy discrimination applies to employers who have 15 or more employees, the FEHA applies to California employers who have 5 or more employees. In addition, California’s prohibition against workplace harassment on the basis of pregnancy applies to all employers. Small business employees are therefore more likely to be protected by California law.

A separate California law provides for a Pregnancy Disability Leave of up to four months for employees who become disabled by a pregnancy. The length of the available leave depends upon the duration of the disability, as determined by a health care provider.

Reasonable Accommodation

California and federal law also require employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for pregnancies and related medical conditions. Depending on the circumstances, allowing an employee to sit or to take more frequent breaks might be reasonable accommodations of a pregnancy.

As a general rule, accommodating a pregnancy includes making changes to nonessential job duties that would make it possible for a pregnant employee to continue working. When accommodations are required and whether requested accommodations are reasonable is not always clear and may depend on several factors. A San Francisco employment discrimination attorney can advise employees who believe they were denied a reasonable accommodation during a pregnancy or for a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.

Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination

Some pregnancy discrimination cases have made headlines. In 2015, for example, the United States Supreme Court decided an important case involving UPS that protected the right of pregnant employees to receive reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and related medical conditions.

Most cases of pregnancy discrimination, however, rarely make the news. Examples of pregnancy discrimination may include:

  • Denying favorable job assignments to employees after they become pregnant for fear that a pregnant employee will not be able to handle the work.
  • Firing, demoting, failing to promote, or taking any other adverse action against an employee because she became pregnant or disclosed her pregnancy.
  • Refusing to allow an employee to resume employment after maternity leave ends.
  • Refusing to permit reasonable accommodations that will allow a pregnant employee to do her job.
  • Laying off a worker because she requests a pregnancy-related accommodation.
  • Harassing pregnant employees within the workplace.
  • Failing to provide reasonable break times and a private place in which employees can express breast milk after giving birth.

Since every case turns on its own facts, whether an employer’s actions violate pregnancy discrimination laws will not always be clear. An employment discrimination attorney in San Francisco is in the best position to investigate the facts and advise employees about their rights. Employees who wonder whether they have been subjected to pregnancy discrimination can seek legal help by calling Minnis & Smallets at 1-415-551-0885 or by submitting our online contact form.

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