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Protections Against Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace

Pregnancy discrimination is an unfortunate reality in many workplaces in Florida and across the United States. In fact, according to a recent U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) survey, pregnancy discrimination claims have risen 35 percent from 1997 to 2010.

Pregnancy discrimination can include harassment and hostility, job loss, missed promotions or salary increases. For pregnant women seeking employment, pregnancy discrimination may also include an employer refusing to interview or hire. However federal laws, and some states’ civil rights laws, offer protection to women who are pregnant, recently gave birth or have pregnancy-related issues.

Legislative Protections

On a national level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), prohibit pregnancy discrimination against female employees or job applicants. Pregnant women must be given the same rights, privileges and treatment as other workers of similar ability or skill. Further, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to allow up to 12 weeks of leave for pregnancy and childbirth.

State law also effectively protects pregnant employees. The Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA) aims to prevent unlawful employment practices for businesses employing 15 or more employees. Unfortunately, unlike the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, neither the FCRA, nor the Florida Human Rights Act, directly address pregnancy discrimination. However, First District Court of Appeal of Florida has ruled that state law is preempted by federal law in the area of pregnancy discrimination, so the federal PDA applies.

Filing a Claim

In Florida, the law does not allow an employee to sue an employer without first pursuing administrative remedies. Thus, a woman experiencing pregnancy discrimination must first file a complaint with either the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) or the EEOC. Because both offices work together, filing with one initiates the process in the other. A key difference, however, is that Florida allows up to 365 days to file a discrimination claim whereas the filing deadline for the federal law is only 300 days.

Upon filing a charge, several procedures must be followed, including a state or federal investigation and a determination of whether the claim is reasonable. If the investigating body does determine that there is probable cause for the claim, the complainant may either request an administrative hearing or file a civil suit. If the complainant wins, she may be entitled to receive back pay for up to two years, compensatory damages and punitive damages.

If a woman believes she may be experiencing or has experienced discrimination in the workplace due to pregnancy or a related condition, it is important that she consult with an attorney experienced in handling civil rights and workplace law claims. Though an attorney is not needed to simply file a complaint with either the FCHR or the EEOC, the lawyer can provide direction through what can be a complex and confusing process. Additionally, if legal action is required, the attorney will be familiar with the case and immediately ready move forward.