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The Facts About Pregnancy Related Employment Discrimination

Thursday, January 31, 2013
By: Michael C. Fee

It is unlawful for an employer to terminate a pregnant female’s employment, or to take any other adverse employment action against the employee, on account of pregnancy.  Under Federal law, The Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and provides that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination.  The law covers employers with 15 or more employees, and mandates that women who are pregnant or affected by pregnancy-related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees with similar abilities or limitations.

Some examples:

  • An employer cannot refuse to hire a pregnant woman because of her pregnancy, or because of the prejudices of co-workers, or customers.
  • An employer may not single out pregnancy-related conditions for special procedures to determine an employee's ability to work.
  • If an employee is temporarily unable to perform her job because of her pregnancy, the employer must treat her the same as any other temporarily disabled employee.
  • Pregnant employees must be permitted to work as long as they are able to perform their jobs.
  • Employers must hold open a job for a pregnancy-related absence the same length of time jobs are held open for employees on sick or disability leave.
  • Any health insurance provided by an employer must cover expenses for pregnancy-related conditions on the same basis as costs for other medical conditions.
  • Employers must provide the same level of health benefits for spouses of male employees as they do for spouses of female employees.
  • Pregnancy-related benefits cannot be limited to married employees.
  • Employees on leave because of pregnancy-related conditions must be treated the same as other temporarily disabled employees for accrual and crediting of seniority, vacation calculation, pay increases, and temporary disability benefits.

In Massachusetts General Law Chapter 151B, sec. 4 makes it an unlawful practice to discharge an employee because of her sex. “Pregnancy and childbirth are sex-linked characteristics and any actions of an employer which unduly burden an employee because of her pregnancy or the requirement of a maternity leave are considered sex discrimination.” School Committee of Braintree v. MCAD, 377 Mass. 424, 430 (1979); Gowen-Esdaile v. Franklin Publishing Co., 6 MDLR 1258 (1984) (termination of complainant during troubled pregnancy because of fears of further absences deemed unlawful sex discrimination).
 
Claims for pregnancy related employment discrimination are often brought in the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, or MCAD, where a complainant must establish a prima facie case by demonstrating that (i) she was a member of a protected class (i.e. pregnant); (ii) she was performing her job at an acceptable level; (iii) she was terminated from her employment or otherwise subject to an adverse employment action; and (iv) her employer sought to fill the position by hiring another individual with similar qualifications, or that complainant’s termination occurred in circumstances that would raise a reasonable inference of discrimination.  Abramian v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, 432 Mass. 107, 116 (2000); Wynn & Wynn v. MCAD, 431 Mass. 655, 665 (2000); Weber v. Community Teamwork Inc., 434 Mass. 761 (2001); and Sullivan v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 444 Mass. 34 (2005).
    
If you are an employee or employer with questions about your rights or obligations under state and federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, contact the Pierce & Mandell employment litigation team.


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