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Federal EEOC Sues Employers over Pregnancy Discrimination

Posted Wednesday, September 13, 2017 by Pivotal Law Group

Three recent lawsuits show the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) is taking a hard look at suspected pregnancy discrimination. Since late August, the EEOC has sued three employers claiming they discriminated against pregnant employees in violation of federal law.

Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act prohibits workplace discrimination, including on the basis of gender. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act extends Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination to include discrimination based on pregnancy. It requires employers to treat women affected by pregnancy the same as persons of similar ability who are not affected by pregnancy. Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted this rule broadly to mean that an employer discriminates based on pregnancy when it refuses the employee an accommodation (such as light duty work) that the employer gives to non-pregnant employees. See Young v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 135 S. Ct. 1338, 1350, 191 L. Ed. 2d 279 (2015). Washington State’s Law against Discrimination similarly prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of pregnancy.

The EEOC’s recent lawsuits accuse three employers of unlawful pregnancy discrimination. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages and injunctive relief.

In the first case, the EEOC alleges a California dietary supplement company had a policy of routinely discharging employees if it learned the employee became pregnant. The EEOC learned of the practice after a worker complained, stating she was fired ten days after informing the company she was pregnant.

In the second case, the EEOC accuses a Wisconsin home health care firm of refusing to accommodate a pregnant worker with light-duty work. The lawsuit claims that the company routinely offered light-duty assignments to injured workers, but refused to extend the same accommodation to pregnant workers.

The final case accuses a Los Angeles restaurant and night club of firing an employee because of her pregnancy. The EEOC claims the restaurant, upon learning the employee was pregnant, cut the employee’s hours and refused to let her return to work after giving birth.

This recent action shows the EEOC considers pregnancy discrimination an enforcement priority.

"Pregnancy discrimination continues to be a persistent problem, even though it has been against federal law for nearly 40 years," said one EEOC lawyer. "Employers should be cognizant of their obligations under the law to maintain a workplace free of discrimination against employees who are expectant mothers." If you have questions regarding federal or Washington protections for pregnant employees, call Pivotal Law Group today for a free consultation.

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