According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), not even other branches of the federal government are above fair employment standards. In a remarkable ruling, the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations director ruled that a pregnancy discrimination class action lawsuit against the Homeland Security Department’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency may proceed.
The initial lawsuit was filed by current and former workers of CBP who had been pregnant during their employment there. According to the plaintiffs, the agency required all pregnant workers to surrender some duties and transition to temporary light duty status. They argue that this violates their rights under both CBP policy and the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which both state that pregnant employees should only be placed on light duty if they request it. The plaintiffs report that the forced transition to light duty had discriminatory consequences, including:
- Fewer opportunities to receive overtime
- Reduced chance for promotion
- Less access to professional training and development
- More difficult scheduling
- The loss of the right to carry a firearm and the later requirement to requalify to carry a firearm
Furthermore, they claim that non-pregnant staff who were placed on light duty were treated differently because those workers typically requested the transfer. In contrast, pregnant employees allegedly never had the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to carry out their duties.
More than two dozen women have so far signed onto the class action lawsuit. It was initially certified to proceed by a regional EEOC judge, but CPB used its discretion to reject that decision and appeal. The agency argued that since it was against policy for pregnant workers to be forced onto temporary light duty, the complainants “lacked commonality” and also that they failed to prove that other women had faced similar discrimination.
However, the EEOC rejected the appeal and recertified the lawsuit. The recertification ruling made it clear that a consistent discriminatory pattern of behavior may be grounds for a class action regardless of whether it is against an organization’s written policy. It further stated that the consistent pattern identified by the complainants constituted commonality and indicated there were likely other victims.
The case is an excellent demonstration of how pregnancy discrimination claims may become necessary and how they can proceed even if an employer disputes the claim. If you have faced similar discrimination for your pregnancy, your employer may be violating your rights.
Your Rights as a Pregnant Worker
Both state and federal laws protect pregnant people’s rights to work. For example, under the PDA and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), an employer must treat pregnant workers any other employee with similar abilities. If a pregnant person can still perform all their normal job duties, the employer cannot treat them differently due to their pregnancy against their wishes. Meanwhile, pregnant employees who cannot perform some of their duties must be treated like any temporarily disabled employee.
California laws also grant expecting mothers the right to fair employment regardless of pregnancy status. This includes individual rights such as:
- The chance to take up to four months of pregnancy disability leave if medically necessary.
- The opportunity to request a transfer to light duty for the duration of the pregnancy.
- The ability to request reasonable accommodations to continue performing their normal duties.
- The protection from adverse employment actions and discrimination due to the pregnancy.
When the rights listed above are violated, the violation is considered pregnancy discrimination. Examples of unlawful workplace pregnancy discrimination include:
- Firing, demoting, or involuntarily altering a worker’s duties because they became pregnant.
- Refusing an employee’s request for light duty that would be granted to a similarly temporarily disabled male employee.
- Refusing to provide reasonable accommodations for the duration of their pregnancy.
- Denying protected leave for covered employees.
- Retaliating against a worker who requests accommodations, takes protected leave, or reports a pregnancy discrimination incident.
How Pregnancy Discrimination Negatively Affects Working Parents
The purpose of pregnancy and disability protection laws is to ensure all workers have access to fair employment based on their abilities and protect them against bias. Expecting mothers are frequently subject to significant workplace discrimination due to societal biases against women.
Unfortunately, this can make it significantly harder for working parents to support their families. Some of the most harmful impacts of workplace pregnancy discrimination include:
- Being forced out of the workforce: People who are wrongfully terminated or face other adverse employment action due to pregnancy are less likely to remain in or re-enter the workforce, preventing them from financially supporting their families.
- Receiving lower performance evaluations: Many expecting mothers face discrimination due to their need for protected leave and accommodations. Biased supervisors may rate their performance lower than workers with similar abilities who are not expecting.
- Receiving fewer career opportunities: Expecting and current mothers often struggle to receive the same opportunities for advancement, often due to assumptions that they are less dedicated to their careers or have less time to train or take on new responsibilities.
- Reducing lifetime earnings: Because of all the issues above, many mothers face lower overall lifetime earnings than their peers.
These types of discrimination prevent pregnant workers from fully realizing their career goals and may permanently depress their economic opportunities and those of their families. That’s exactly why pregnancy discrimination is considered unlawful.
Experienced Legal Counsel for Workers Experiencing Pregnancy Discrimination
You have options if you have experienced discrimination such as forced reassignment to light duty due to a pregnancy. At Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP, our skilled attorneys have decades of experience pursuing justice for workers experiencing discriminatory or retaliatory action by their employers. Schedule your free consultation today to discuss your needs and learn more about how we can help you achieve compensation for your employer’s unfair actions.