Today’s women want it all: The career, the marriage, the house, and yes, the family. And they can have it all, with some juggling, multitasking, and super-human willpower. Unfortunately, some individuals may find it difficult to achieve both personal and professional success, and if they fail in one area, they may feel slighted, especially if they cannot manage to sustain a career while managing motherhood.
Pregnancy discrimination is a very real issue that women in the workforce may have to deal with at one point in their life or another. Just because discrimination occurs, that does not make it okay. Because of its existence, some women may assume that their employer or potential employer made a decision regarding their employment status based off the sole fact that they were pregnant. If you are in a situation in which a pregnant individual feels that you discriminated against her because of her pregnancy, you may have a serious issue on your hands. It would be in your best interest, and in the best interest of your company, to consult with a discrimination attorney as soon as you catch wind of any complaints of discrimination within your company.
Pregnancy Discrimination Defined
Pregnancy discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee or potential employee differently because of her status as a soon-to-be mom. This can mean firing an employee because of her pregnancy status, not hiring an individual because of her pregnancy status, or disallowing a pregnant woman or woman of childbearing age to perform certain duties or work in certain work environments. Furthermore, it is illegal to withhold a promotion from a woman just because she is pregnant, or because she “might become pregnant.”
While pregnant women do not get any special rights, per se, it is illegal for employers to treat pregnant employees differently from any other employee.
How to Prove Pregnancy Discrimination
Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to prove pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, as most employment in the United States – outside of employment with a union – is “at will,” meaning that an employer can dismiss any employee in the U.S. without any real reason or cause. In order for an individual to prove that her employer or potential employer committed pregnancy discrimination, she must be able to provide ample evidence showing that she was in fact treated differently than any other employees in a similar situation, and that the special treatment was a direct cause of the pregnancy.
What Constitutes Evidence of Discrimination?
Sometimes, an employer will come out and say that he or she acted a certain way toward an employee or made a decision regarding an individual’s employment or position because of her pregnancy. If this happens, the employer has essentially implicated him or herself with “direct evidence.”
For example, if an employer said to a job candidate, “You are the best candidate for the job, but we cannot risk hiring you and training you just to have you decide not to come back once the baby is born,” the candidate could use that as direct evidence of pregnancy discrimination.
Although it is rare for an employer to make such a discriminatory assessment and statement in today’s day and age, it does happen.
Even if an employer is not so brash as to outwardly share his or her feelings towards a pregnant individual, the individual can sue an employer based on strong circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence may include:
- Proof that the employer deviated from his or her usual practices, acted in an unusual way, or changed his or her behavior in some way upon learning of the employee’s pregnancy;
- Proof that strange decisions by management were only made once an individual’s pregnancy became apparent;
- Statistical data regarding past pregnant employees;
- Proof of failure to follow typical termination procedures;
- Proof of failure to follow through with the typical interview process upon learning of an individual’s pregnancy;
- Proof that the employer’s reasons for firing an individual or not hiring an individual were false (i.e. they did not hire someone because they lacked a Master’s degree, but the person they ended up hiring also did not have a Master’s degree); or
- Proof of suspicious timing (i.e. an individual was fired the day that they were to start maternity leave; the company’s database shows that several other women who used to work for the company were fired around the same time).
When to Consult an Employment Attorney
If you and/or your company have been accused of pregnancy discrimination, it would be in your best interests to hire an employment attorney—especially if the employee or potential employee in question has direct or circumstantial evidence of your discrimination. At Garcia & Gurney, ALC, we advocate for businesses throughout Northern California. Our goal is to ensure fair practices in the workplace and to enable businesses to continue operations as usual by helping them resolve discrimination issues as quickly as they arise. If you are in need of a discrimination attorney, contact our employment law firm at 925-468-0400 or online to schedule your private consultation today.