What Laws Protect Against Pregnancy Discrimination in Employment?
Pregnancy is a normal and common experience. The humans would cease to exist without reproduction. However, pregnancy discrimination laws did not always exist.
What Is Pregnancy Discrimination?
Pregnancy discrimination in employment is, generally, any discrimination by an employer or failure to address any discrimination that it knew of or should have known about and includes retaliation. Pregnancy discrimination laws protect current and prospective employees.
Pregnancy discrimination may take one of many forms: (1) Harassment, (2) Disparate Impact, (3) Disparate Treatment, and (4) Retaliation.
- Harassment is when the offensive comments or treatment are sufficiently severe or pervasive as to create a hostile work environment. Harassment is fairly straight forward.
- Disparate Impact is when a seemingly neutral policy, act, rule, or procedure by an employer has the effect of affecting pregnant women disproportionately. An example may be a minimum lifting requirements on the job.
- Disparate Treatment is when an employee is treated differently because of their pregnancy. For example, a pregnant woman may not be hired because the employer believes that she will take leave or not be committed to the work because of her pregnancy.
- Retaliation is when an employer takes any adverse action against an employee for exercising an employment right or participating in the reporting or investigation of a claim.
Federal Laws Protecting Against Pregnancy Discrimination
It was originally thought that discrimination by employers on the basis of pregnancy was protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but the U.S. Supreme Court in General Electric Company v. Gilbert held that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is not a form of sex discrimination under Title VII. In response to this ruling, Congress enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 which amended the Title VII definition of sex discrimination to include “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” Pregnancy is not considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the medical conditions resulting from pregnancy may be covered as a disability under the ADA. Additionally, the Family Medical Leave Act allows for pregnancy/parental leave up to 12 weeks unpaid for both the mother and father. However, Minnesota provides additional protections against pregnancy discrimination in addition to federal laws.
In addition to Title VII, Minnesota law protects against pregnancy discrimination under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Under the MHRA, pregnancy is protected as both discrimination based on familial status and sex discrimination. Discrimination on the basis of familial status was added to the MHRA when it was amended by the Women’s Economic Security Act in 2014.
What Employers Are Covered By Title VII and the Minnesota Human Rights Act?
Not all employers are covered by Title VII. For an employer to be covered by Title VII, they must have at least 15 employees. The MHRA is more expansive as it covers any employer with at least 1 employee. Keep in mind that these laws do not cover independent contractors. However, employees are frequently misclassified as an independent contractor. Both Title VII and the MHRA have their own tests determining the proper classification of an independent contractor that are much more favorable to the employee than the IRS test.
What Should Employees Do?
Employees or people that have been denied a job because of pregnancy discrimination should consult an attorney if they feel they have been discriminated against because of their pregnancy. Furthermore, they should document all instances of discrimination, preserve any evidence, and report any instances of discrimination according to their employer. An employee may also file a complaint with the EEOC or Minnesota Department of Human Rights. However, it is recommended that you consult an attorney first to identify the issues, and to draft your complaint. An attorney drafted complaint has a better chance of receiving a favorable determination from the EEOC or Minnesota Department of Human Rights.
What Should Employers Do?
An employer’s prevention of pregnancy or any other type of discrimination begins long before an incident arises; it begins with a solid and up-to-date human resources policy and employee handbook. An employer should make the investment to have an employee handbook and human resources policy drafted or updated by an attorney. The damages awarded in an employment case may be enough to sink or seriously impair a business.
If you have questions about pregnancy discrimination, or employee handbooks, please contact Antolak & Ongeri at (952) 222-3873.