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Pregnancy Discrimination at the Workplace

While most are aware of the physical and emotional changes women face when pregnant, many fail to realize the changes and effects pregnant women face at their workplaces. Pregnant women may require more frequent bathroom breaks, days off due to pregnancy complications or doctors’ appointments. As a result, many are fired due to requesting the evolving needs that they require in order to maintain a healthy pregnancy or not hired if employers are aware they are pregnant. Federal and New York law prohibit employment discrimination and harassment against pregnant women and provide remedies for such women when discrimination and harassment occur in the workplace or when a pregnant woman is qualified for the job but not hired because she is pregnant.

Federal law, namely Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. In 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (“PDA”) overruled a United States Supreme Court precedent, General Electric Co. v. Gilbert, which held that employer’s insurance which excluded pregnancy as short term disability was “not discrimination on the basis of one’s sex.” General Electric Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125 (1976). Today, women working for employers with 15 or more employees are protected from pregnancy discrimination and harassment because the PDA amends Title VII to include pregnancy discrimination as a form of sex discrimination. Under the PDA, a woman’s right to work during pregnancy or look for work without being discriminated against is protected because the PDA prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy for any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

The PDA also mandates that employers must treat pregnancy the same way they treat temporary illnesses or other medical conditions. For instance, if a pregnancy leaves a woman temporarily and physically disabled in a way that one or more of her major life activities are impaired, then a woman also may have recourse under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Under the ADA, the employer has a duty to treat a pregnant woman the same way they would treat a temporarily disabled employee by providing a reasonable accommodation so that the essential functions of the job can still be completed. Some federal courts, such as the Southern District of New York have held that pregnancy complications, such as “spotting, leaking, cramping, dizziness, and nausea” caused by pregnancy are impairments for the purposes of the ADA. Cerrato v. Durham, 941 F. Supp. 388 (S.D.N.Y. 1996).

New York State and City law extends protection for pregnancy discrimination and harassment because they apply to women who work for employers with at least 4 employees, whereas federal law requires at least 15 employees. Under New York laws, both State and City, New York State Human Rights Law §296 and New York City Human Rights Law §8-101 pregnancy discrimination is constituted as sex/gender discrimination, and a related claim may fall under disability discrimination. Similar to federal courts, an employer is prohibited from discriminating against or harassing a woman for any aspect of employment, including but not limited to hiring, firing, promotions, layoffs, fringe benefits and other terms and conditions of employment. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for their disabled employees, including women temporarily disabled by their pregnancies.

For more detailed information regarding federal and state law prohibiting employment discrimination visit, Attorneys with a focus in Employment Discrimination, including Pregnancy Discrimination and Harassment, can protect your interests and your right. If you would like to get a consultation with one of our New York employment discrimination attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at the Law Office of Borrelli and Associates immediately. We are eager to review your evidence and give you advice.

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