Federal pregnancy discrimination laws


In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and pregnancy-related medical conditions, similar to other employees with related disabilities, but not more.

Although pregnancy is technically not a disability, under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), employers that grant certain privileges to employees that are temporarily disabled, must provide the same privileges to pregnant woman that become limited in their abilities to function as a result of the pregnancy. Pregnant employees are also guaranteed the right to take a leave by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a Federal agency empowered to protect the rights of pregnant woman. Although anyone can file a complaint with the EEOC, it is highly recommended that you speak to an attorney and obtain their assistance to make sure your rights are fully protected. The attorneys at the Akin Law Group regularly work with the EEOC and can assist you in this regard.

The Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. Some of the unlawful discriminatory practices banned by the act are:

  • Refusing to hire: As long as an applicant is able to perform the job, her pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition cannot be used as a reason not to hire her.
  • Firing or demoting a pregnant employee: Employers are prohibited from firing or demoting workers because of their pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition. If an employee takes a leave due to her pregnancy, her employer must hold her job open for as long as it would for an employee who must take a leave for disability or sickness.
  • Denying the same or a similar position to an employee who returns to work from a pregnancy-related leave: An employer cannot give an employee a less advantageous position after she returns from a pregnancy-related leave.
  • Treating a pregnant employee differently from a temporarily disabled employee: Employees who temporarily cannot work due to pregnancy must be treated the same way as employees who are temporarily disabled.
  • Forcing a pregnant employee to take an unpaid leave: An employer is prohibited from forcing a pregnant worker to take an unpaid leave as long as she can still perform her job.

In addition to prohibiting facially discriminatory policies, the PDA prohibits policies that disparately impact pregnant employees. A facially neural policy that has a disproportionate negative impact on pregnant woman is unlawful unless the employer can show that the policy is related to the job position and is necessary for the operation of the business. When evaluating a disparate impact claim, the court does not concern itself with the employer’s intent, but rather focuses on the consequences of the workplace policy in question. That means that an employer cannot absolve itself of responsibility for the discriminatory consequences of a policy by stating that it did not intend to discriminate.

If you believe that your employer has unlawfully discriminated against you because of your pregnancy, contact the Akin Law Group at 866.685.5163. Our experienced attorneys can answer your questions about employment law and help you determine the best course of action.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that entitles eligible employees to take unpaid, job protected leave for family and medical reasons. Pregnant employees may take up to twelve workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for pregnancy, childbirth, pregnancy-related health conditions, and the care of newborn children who are less than one year old.

Employees who return from FMLA leave must either restored to their former position or given an equivalent one. They must receive the equivalent compensations, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment as they had before their leave. If you return from an FMLA leave and your employer puts you into a position with less compensation or benefits, contact Akin Law Group as soon as possible to schedule a free consultation.

New York City Pregnant Workers Fairness Act provides more comprehensive protections than federal law


The PDA provides crucial protections for pregnant workers across the nation. However, it does not require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. Fortunately, New York City law is broader than federal law, and guarantees additional protections to pregnant NYC employees.

The New York City Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees, such as more frequent bathroom breaks, longer resting periods, and limits on manual labor. An employer may not refuse to provide a reasonable accommodation to a pregnant worker unless it can prove that the accommodation would create an “undue hardship” for the business. Several examples of factors that are taken into account when making a judgment of “undue hardship” are the cost of the accommodation, the business’s resources, and the organization of the business’s facility.

As long as an employee can perform the basic elements of a job, with or without accommodation, the employer may not force her to take an unpaid leave. An employee’s inability to perform a peripheral function of the job cannot be used as justification for forcing her to take a leave.

In addition to requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires that they provide pregnant employees with a written notice of their rights.

Examples of pregnancy discrimination

Here are several examples of situations that constitute unlawful pregnancy discrimination:

  • After a female employee tells her boss she is pregnant, she is forced to take an unpaid leave, despite the fact that she is still able to perform the basic activities of her job.
  • A pregnant employee working at a restaurant asks her manager if she can have more breaks from standing up. Her boss refuses or ignores her request.
  • A pregnant employee’s supervisor demotes her for being unable to perform a minor element of her job due to her pregnancy.
  • A pregnant woman is not hired for a position despite the fact that she is able and qualified to do the job. Later, she finds out that the manager thought that she would not be able to keep up with the fast pace of the work environment because of her pregnancy.
  • An employer refuses to allow a pregnant employee to take a leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Direct and circumstantial evidence of discrimination

Occasionally, an employer will admit that an employee’s pregnancy was a factor in an adverse employment decision. If this occurs, the employee has direct evidence of discrimination, and will usually have a considerably easier time winning a lawsuit.

Not all employers provide direct evidence of discrimination. However, victims of pregnancy discrimination may still be able to win a lawsuit by providing circumstantial evidence that allows the judge or jury to infer that discrimination occurred. Circumstantial evidence often requires the plaintiff to prove that the employer acted in an unusual way or altered its behavior after learning about her pregnancy. If you believe that your employer is discriminating against you, but have no direct evidence of the discrimination, begin keeping a record of situations that could be considered circumstantial evidence. Doing so may ensure higher chances of success in court.

The lawyers at Akin Law Group will fight for your rights

Despite the law, employers often violate the rights of pregnant women, especially women in low-wage jobs, who are vulnerable because they may face financial difficulties if they try to defend their rights. The lawyers at Akin Law Group are committed to helping victims of pregnancy discrimination, and take fees on a strict Contingency basis. That means that our clients are not charged any fees unless their lawsuit concludes successfully, either in court or through a settlement.

If you were treated unfairly during or after your pregnancy or denied reasonable accommodations, contact the Akin Law Group immediately at (212) 825-1400 to schedule a Free and Confidential Consultation(your employer will not know that you spoke to an attorney unless we pursue a case). Our lawyers will use their extensive legal knowledge and experience to fight for your right to fair treatment in the workplace and have an atmosphere free of employment discrimination.