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On-the-Job Discrimination: Pregnancy Discrimination

Discriminatory conduct based on pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions is a form of gender-based discrimination. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, in combination with the Civil Rights Act of 1991, serves to protect the rights of various groups of people from discrimination in the workplace based on membership in a protected category. Sex is a protected category. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 clarified the scope of protection and remedies available to victims of discrimination. Several federal agencies work closely with state governments and employers to prevent discrimination in the workplace. These include the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Rules

Discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions is unlawful under federal law.

In addition, employers may not discriminate against pregnant women based on marital status. Pregnancy-related benefits must be extended to married and single workers alike.

Employers may not refuse to hire a pregnant woman unless the pregnancy would prevent her from performing major functions of her job.

If the employee becomes temporarily unable to perform her job due to pregnancy-related conditions, the employer must treat her the same as any temporarily disabled employee. For example, the employer may provide modified tasks, alternative assignments, disability leave or leave without pay.

The employer may not require the employee to remain on leave until the birth of the child if she recovers from the pregnancy-related condition and is able to work.

Pregnant employees must be permitted to work if they are able to perform their job.

Definitions

Protected Categories are groups of persons with characteristics in common, such as race, sex or nationality, that Congress has decided must be protected from discriminatory practices. Congress generally bases this determination on a history of discrimination.

Pregnancy-Related Conditions are health problems that arise out of or are closely related to pregnancy.

Filing Requirements and Limitations

Use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available so that the offender will be directly informed of the inappropriate conduct and so that the company will have the opportunity to take prompt and appropriate remedial action. Taking this step will also ensure that a written record of the conduct is on file.

The federal law that governs sex-based discrimination, including pregnancy discrimination, only applies to companies and businesses with 15 or more employees.

Your claim must first be pre-filed with the EEOC within 180 days of the potentially unlawful action or within 300 days of the unlawful action if your state is a referral jurisdiction state. Tennessee is a referral jurisdiction state. The deadline will not be extended because of internal investigation of the incident within the company.

A lawsuit must be filed within 90 days of the receipt of a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against due to a pregnancy, it is best to contact an attorney immediately, who will advise you of your rights and duties under the law.

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Remedies and Damages

Back Pay – This is the most common form of relief. It includes the value of wages, salary, and fringe benefits the claimant would have received during the period of discrimination from the date of termination/failure to promote to the date of trial. You have a duty to mitigate these damages by taking reasonable efforts to find comparable employment after you have been terminated.

Compensatory Damages – Awarded for emotional distress, pain and suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life. Individual claim caps are placed on this type of damages based on the size of the employer.

Attorney’s Fees – The court may choose to award attorney’s fees to the prevailing, or winning, party.

Punitive Damages – These types of damages are limited to cases in which the employer’s discrimination is intentional and was done with malice or reckless indifference to the individual’s rights. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for its behavior. Therefore, not every case will merit punitive damages. Claim caps also apply to these awards.

Front Pay – Designed to compensate the victim for anticipated future losses due to the discrimination when the employer refuses to reinstate the employer or the court determines that reinstatement is not feasible.

Injunctive Relief – Common examples of injunctive relief include reinstating a terminated employee or ordering the employer to prevent future discrimination.