Claims for pregnancy discrimination are spiking across the country, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Last year, the agency filed 3,000 claims of pregnancy discrimination nationally. More than $22 million in payouts for those claims were ultimately paid, which is a more than 30 percent increase in the annual average ($17 million) recorded over the last decade.
Our Los Angeles pregnancy discrimination attorneys would point out too that this doesn’t even include pregnancy discrimination cases that are resolved through litigation in court. Some of those outcomes have been substantial, such as the $185 million California pregnancy discrimination damages awarded to a plaintiff in San Diego who was demoted and then later fired from her retail position after informing her boss she was pregnant. The company insisted she was fired for misplacing money, but a jury found that reasoning to be pretextual (an excuse) and decided the case in her favor.
That was in 2014, and the number of claims and payouts has been steadily rising ever since. A big part of the problem is too many employers still are apparently failing to grasp what their responsibilities are under state and federal gender discrimination laws pertaining to pregnancy. They do what they may feel is expedient for the company financially without fully examining the legality and potential repercussions. Also, employees are becoming increasingly aware of their legal rights – particularly with the cultural influence of the #metoo movement.
Laws Governing Pregnancy Discrimination Claims
The federal law that applies in these cases is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Workers are also protected by the California Fair Housing and Employment Act. These laws define pregnancy discrimination to be a type of gender employment discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.
Very often, this takes the form of an applicant applies for a job, gets the position, but then an employer learns the person is pregnant and then withdraws the offer. Other times, we see cases where an employee is demoted, denied a promotion or terminated after it is learned they are pregnant. It can also include cases where a company imposes substantial burdens on pregnant workers without strong justification for it, essentially pressuring them to quit.
Proving California Pregnancy Discrimination
We use much of the same type of evidence we would in any sex discrimination case. A discriminatory motive can be established either directly or inferred from the circumstances and surrounding facts.
Some ways we can show pregnancy discrimination in California:
- The company had a policy or there was a statement by a company decision maker indicating there was bias against the person on the basis of pregnancy and that bias was linked to adverse employment action. For instance, if a manager says a worker won’t be rehired because they’ve had a complication in their pregnancy, that would be a direct indicator of discrimination.
- There was close timing between the time the employer found out about the pregnancy and the adverse employment action. If a manager learns an employee is pregnant and a month later the employee is terminated, it could be inferred that the firing was based on discriminatory motive.
- Workers of both genders who aren’t pregnant and have a similar ability/inability to work are treated better. Companies will often provide other reasons for adverse employment actions (i.e., we fired you for poor work performance, not because you are pregnant), but that can be proven pretextual if supervisors only reprimand others for the same or similar sub-par performance.
- The company’s explanation for why it took the adverse employment action is not credible. An example of this might be if a company demotes or terminates someone saying they have become overstaffed, but plaintiff can produce evidence that they and their co-workers had ample work.
- Employee can show the company either misapplied or outright violated its own policy when it took the adverse employment action. There have been cases where workers discriminated on the basis of pregnancy were able to prove it by showing the company didn’t enforce some aspects of the company’s code of conduct until it was used as justification for firing the worker when it was revealed she was pregnant.
Many of these cases can be settled prior to trial.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
Pregnancy discrimination settlements on the rise, April 6, 2020, By Bethan Moorcraft, Insurance Business Magazine