Is Firing a Pregnant Employee Illegal?
Although pregnancy does not make an employee immune to employment termination, firing an employee because she is pregnant is unacceptable. In accordance with employment law, there must be fair treatment towards all employees, including pregnant individuals. Pregnancy discrimination lawsuits in the United States have risen nearly 50% in the last 15 years. In fact, in the last fiscal year, government agencies received 5,370 charges alleging pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 protects the rights of pregnant women working in companies. Its provisions include preventing employers from forcing pregnant workers to take a leave if they’re fit to continue working, asserting that breastfeeding is a pregnancy-related condition that is permitted in a workplace, mandating parental policies have to be the same for the mother and father, and assuring that women with pregnancy impairments would have accommodations provided for them.
Discriminatory Court Cases
G.E.B. Medical Management Inc. was instructed to pay about $6.2 million in damages due to three employees who claimed they were discriminated against because of their pregnancy. This company violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. One of these former employees, Marlena Santana, professed in court the many wrongdoings of G.E.B. Medical Management. Santana told management about her pregnancy and immediately received hostile treatment. She claimed that her job tasks had changed from working in the front office to filling water bottles, purchasing snacks from a store, etc. Her job became more demeaning and downgrading. The company even hired a part-time worker to complete her job. Santana was then fired a couple of months later without a plausible explanation. In court, the jury gave each employee about $1.5 million for compensatory damages, $1.5 million in punitive damages and $180,000 for lost wages. Mistreating a pregnant woman is not permitted in any company. If a company were to mishandle this situation, it can cause a huge loss of money for them if the pregnant employee decides to sue.
Rosario Juarez, a former employee of AutoZone, was demoted from store manager when she became pregnant and was later fired because she filed a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against them. The jury was so appalled by this situation that they agreed to give Juarez $185 million in punitive damages. AutoZone considered appealing the ruling but later decided to settle instead. Regardless of a person’s health state, it’s important to follow the law and treat everyone respectfully within a work environment.
If a woman is hired and is working at Company X for some time before she becomes pregnant, that time period is crucial. Any mistakes, tardiness, laziness, rudeness towards coworkers, etc., will reflect bad behavior onto her records. If there is a lack of responsibility and unreliability within the workplace before she is pregnant and this only continues or becomes worse, it can be possible for Company X to fire her legally.
Some companies will use the reasoning that the employee is ineligible for unpaid leave because she hasn’t been working with the company for that long. There are multiple loopholes within laws that will cause a business to use in their advantage. For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which extends a maximum of 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a year doesn’t to employees with under one year of tenure.
It’s important to know that discrimination against pregnant female employees is banned in many states. If you are an employer, keep records and files on all of your employees to show their progress within a company. If a female employee has been very inconsistent or has repeatedly failed to meet work requirements, demonstrating an inability to perform even prior to pregnancy, it would be reasonable to let her go. However, do not fire her due to her pregnancy, because that will not be permitted and will result in a lawsuit.
If you are pregnant, keep written evidence of anything important such as names, times, dates, and any other details related to pregnancy pushback at work. Record when you told human resources about your pregnancy, as well as the reaction. Jot down any changes in behavior to employees and you, such as negative comments or expressions towards you or preferential treatment to coworkers who aren’t pregnant. Keep any emails or notes that reflect your treatment in the workplace. If you receive any harassment, witness a change of job description, find your tasks suddenly replaced by new hires, notice a reduction of wages, find yourself suddenly fired, write down any crucial information for the purpose of an attorney.
If you are accused of pregnant discrimination in the workplace or think you have been discriminated against while being pregnant, call the Law Office of Inna Fershteyn at (718) 333-2394 or visit our website to schedule a consultation.