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Pregnancy discrimination remains part of EEOC’s focus

As the summer drew to a close, the EEOC continued to aggressively pursue claims of pregnancy discrimination, filing a total of eight lawsuits involving pregnancy-related discrimination in the month of September alone. These cases range from New Mexico to Georgia and include a wide variety of employers from a commercial moving company to a temporary staffing agency to a home healthcare provider. Despite these differences, however, a common thread throughout the cases is the consistent “no tolerance” position of the EEOC related to pregnancy discrimination. This policy prohibits discrimination based on (a) current pregnancies, (b) past pregnancies, (c) potential or intended pregnancies, and (d) medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this year in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., the EEOC makes it clear that no discrimination—whether in the hiring, retaining, or firing—of an employee based on that employee’s pregnancy will be tolerated. Because the EEOC continues to make pregnancy discrimination enforcement a priority, it is important for employers to be aware that they cannot treat pregnant employees any differently than non-pregnant employees. As a general rule, employers must treat pregnant and non-pregnant employees in the same manner by focusing simply on the employee’s ability or inability to work.

And discriminating against pregnant employees can prove costly if the EEOC gets involved. At the end of last month, the EEOC announced that it had settled with a northern California flight school regarding a pregnancy discrimination claim. In that case, the EEOC claimed the flight school had discriminated against a female aircraft mechanic by firing her after she notified the company president that she was pregnant. Under the terms of the settlement, the flight school must pay $60,000; reinstate the fired employee; and hire a full-time human resources manager to oversee all equal employment opportunity processes, review the company ’s anti-discrimination policies, and train all employees on laws enforced by the EEOC. The settlement agreement represents a 7-year conciliation agreement.

To assist employers in navigating the tricky waters of pregnancy discrimination, the EEOC puts out a couple of practice guides for general employers and small businesses related to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Additionally, the guides briefly address potential claims that may fall under the umbrella of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

What does this mean for employers?

Because these issues (and more) may arise with little or no warning, it is important to have nondiscriminatory policies in place—and a management team trained to consistently implement those policies and recognize potential problems. As illustrated by the sheer number of lawsuits filed in September, the EEOC takes its enforcement of pregnancy discrimination claims very seriously—with potentially serious consequences for employers.

Items on this web page are general in nature. They cannot—and should not—replace consultation with a competent legal professional. Nothing on this web page should be considered rendering legal advice.

© 2015

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