Hostile Work Environment—Pregnancy Discrimination

One often overlooked but extremely important aspect of anti-discrimination law is pregnancy discrimination law. While this area of law is still developing, with the United States Supreme Court addressing issues of pregnancy discrimination in this upcoming term, some pregnancy discrimination law is well-defined. One such area has to do with employers who create a hostile work environment for pregnant workers.

What Laws Cover Hostile Work Environment Discrimination and Pregnant Workers?

First and foremost, pregnant workers are covered by an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 called the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Prior to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Civil Rights Act had already prohibited discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sex. But the Pregnancy Discrimination Act clarified the definition of the phrase “on the basis of sex.” It explained that discrimination “because of sex” included discrimination “because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” and explained that women affected by pregnancy shall not be discriminated against.

The Civil Rights Act’s prohibition against sex discrimination, which, after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, governs pregnancy discrimination as well, includes prohibitions against sexual harassment. One type of sexual harassment is what is known as “hostile work environment” sexual harassment. However, not just any harassment due to pregnancy is enough to constitute a hostile work environment. There are only two types of harassment that are illegal:

  1. Harassment becomes unlawful if enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment;
  2. Harassment becomes unlawful if the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

In other words, in order for harassment of a pregnant worker to be illegal, it must be part of a repeated pattern of severe conduct. This can include things like inappropriate jokes and name-calling, but one small slight alone does not constitute harassment.

One of the problems with the federal law is that it does not cover all pregnant workers. If your employer has fewer than 15 employees, you likely are not covered. However, Oregon state law also covers pregnant workers who are subjected to workplace harassment resulting in a hostile work environment, and the state law covers all employees in Oregon. The general statute dealing with illegal discrimination in Oregon workplaces is Oregon Revised Statute 659A.030. However, that statute is modified by Oregon Revised Statute 659A.029, which defines what the phrase “because of sex” means in the general anti-discrimination statute. This statute, much like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, says that discrimination “because of sex” includes discrimination due to pregnancy status. While the Oregon statutes themselves do not cover harassment claims, you may be able to make some other sort of pregnancy discrimination claim under Oregon law if you have also been a victim of a hostile work environment.

Contact an Employment Lawyer

The employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP handle this sort of discrimination case on a regular basis. If you have been subjected to a hostile work environment due to your current or recent pregnancy, you should contact us by calling (503) 398-1130.