Many prominent feminists have tried to explain why legislators and courts in the United States have struggled so mightily to develop a viable legal doctrine for adjudicating cases of pregnancy discrimination. Some of the reasons for this struggle have been theoretical–for example, it is not obvious that pregnant women, as such, constituted a protected class which cannot be subsumed under such classes as women generally or people with certain specific disabilities.
In 1978 the U.S. Congress enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which gave the courts some crucial parameters for the development of legal doctrine on this issue, by enacting protections for pregnant women as distinct from other protected groups. This landmark legislation amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, specifying that pregnancy discrimination is a form of gender discrimination. This change, against the backdrop of increasing acceptance of the idea that an action that is facially neutral in its scope can nevertheless be discriminatory in virtue of its disparate impact on different groups, has given rise to a steady trickle of successful lawsuits by plaintiffs suing for pregnancy discrimination. Below are three recent examples of such successes.
1. In January 2014, the J.C. Penney corporation agreed to pay $40,000.00 to an employee to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the Northern District of Georgia. The EEOC’s claim was that the Plaintiff was denied employment at a J.C. Penney hair salon after she informed the salon’s manager that she was pregnant, in violation of the PDA. While the company did not admit wrongdoing, it nevertheless also agreed to take various steps to ensure compliance with the law–posting anti-discrimination notices, training, etc.
2. In February 2014, Plaintiff Virginia Ingarra’s pregnancy discrimination suit survived summary judgment when Judge Marianne O. Battani of the Southern District of Michigan found that it was a triable issue of fact whether she was demoted because she had revealed her intention to use in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to become pregnant. Ms. Ingarra worked for Ross Education LLC as a dental instructor, but following a miscarriage she was asked by her supervisor whether she intended to continue trying to become pregnant. After this conversation she was demoted from “Lead Dental Instructor” to “Teaching Assistant,” ostensibly because hormone treatments, etc. would make her unable to perform her job duties. The lawsuit, filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as elaborated by the PDA, and the corresponding Michigan state law, will now go forward.
3. In March 2014, Jiji, Inc., a Holiday Inn franchisee in Mississippi, agreed to pay $20,000.00 to Te’Shawn Harmon, who accused the company of terminating her employment because of her pregnancy. Just after she was hired, on her first day of work, Ms. Harmon informed her manager that she was pregnant, whereupon he immediately terminated her and replaced her with another female employee who was not pregnant. In addition to monetary relief, the parties signed a two-year consent decree requiring the Defendant to take various remedial actions such as posting a notice of the lawsuit, retaining and reporting records of discrimination complaints, and training managers on employee rights under Title VII.
With these and other legal cases concerning pregnancy discrimination, we can reasonably expect that courts’ reasoning about these difficult issues will continue to evolve and improve.
If you believe your employer has terminated or changed your employment due to your pregnancy, or your intention to become pregnant, please call The Harman Firm, LLP