Employment Discrimination Case Highlights Pregnancy-Based Discrimination in the Workplace
A story from the Seattle PI this week highlights the many different types of employment discrimination claims that an employee may bring against a supervisor under employment anti-discrimination laws. Jesse Hernandez, head of the Arizona State Board of Executive Clemency was under investigation after a female employee complained that he discriminated against her in the workplace. The woman was a clemency board employee. She complained in May that Mr. Hernandez promoted a woman he was dating to a position that included a $21,000 per year pay raise, and engaged in other inappropriate conduct. The woman’s complaint also included allegations that Mr. Hernandez discriminated against her based on race, age, national origin and pregnancy. Mr. Hernandez has since resigned from his position.
A Topic Not Always in the Spotlight
Discrimination based on pregnancy is not a topic that is often in the news, and there are likely many misconceptions about how the law protects workers from discrimination based on pregnancy. Contrary to popular misconception, the laws against pregnancy discrimination do not just prohibit an employer from firing a woman just because she is pregnant. In fact, according to the EEOC, there are several situations in which pregnancy discrimination can occur.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
First, under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), pregnancy discrimination may occur if a woman is treated unfavorably in her job because she is pregnant. This includes discrimination based on any element of employment, such as in the hiring or firing of the employee, or the determination of pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, or other aspects of employment. Second, pregnancy discrimination can occur when a woman is treated unfairly or inappropriately because she has given birth. Third, anti-discrimination laws prohibit treating a woman unfavorably because she suffers from a medical condition relating to childbirth. Under this part of the law, an employer must treat a woman in the same way as any other temporarily disabled employee if she is unable to perform her job duties as a result of a childbirth-related disability or condition. It is important to note that some disabilities related to childbirth may also fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If so, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to the employee.
In addition to prohibiting employers from treating women unfavorably due to pregnancy, childbirth, or a disability related to childbirth, anti-discrimination laws also prohibit workplace harassment based on pregnancy. This means that it is unlawful to harass a woman because she is pregnant, because she has given childbirth, or because she suffers from a disability or condition related to the birth of a child. Similar to the laws governing sexual harassment and other forms of harassment, pregnancy-based harassment rises to the level of being unlawful when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a “hostile work environment.” It is also unlawful if it results in an adverse work decision, which many Americans may view as familiar, or classic, harassment.
There are numerous other important provisions under the PDA that may apply to a particular case. If you believe that you have been treated unfavorably or harassed because you are pregnant, have given childbirth, or because you are disabled or suffer from a medical condition due to giving birth, you should seek out the assistance of an experienced employment law attorney. Contact the offices of HKM Employment Lawyers today for a confidential consultation.