Can an Employer be Sued for Pregnancy Discrimination?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§2000e et seq., is typically known for protecting individuals against discrimination based on race, gender, color, religion or national origin. The statute specifically provides that:

It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer (1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or (2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

New Protections for Pregnancy Discrimination

Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §2000e-2(a). However, a new amendment to Title VII provides protection for pregnant women as well. The new amendment known as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, such as leave and health insurance, and any other term or condition of employment.

Under Title VII and the PDA, an employer may not single out pregnancy-related conditions for special procedures to determine an employee’s ability to work.

Reasonable Accommodations

In the alternative, if a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to some medical condition caused and/or related to pregnancy or childbirth, her Employer must treat her the same way as it treats any other temporarily disabled employee. If the Employer provides certain accommodations to disabled employees, such as light duty work, alternative assignments, temporary disability leave or unpaid leave, the Employer must provide those same accommodations to a female employee who is temporarily unable to perform her job because of her pregnancy or childbirth.

If an Employer requires its employees to submit a doctor’s statement concerning their inability to work before granting leave or paying sick benefits, the Employer may require employees affected by pregnancy-related conditions to submit such statements. The Employer would not be engaging in discriminatory treatment if they required a pregnant woman to provide a doctor’s note.

Further Protections: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)


The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. The statute specifically provides that:

No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. ADA, 42 U.S.C. §12112(a).

As defined by the ADA, a disability is (1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual, (2) a record of such an impairment or (3) being regarded as having such an impairment. 42 U.S.C. §12102(1).

Under the ADA, impairments resulting from pregnancy may be considered a disability. Therefore, if an Employer fires a pregnant woman, he/she could be in violation of the ADA. The ADA would also require an Employer to provide reasonable accommodations to the pregnant woman. If the Employer doesn’t provide a reasonable accommodation to the pregnant woman, he/she could once again be in violation of the ADA.


Furthermore, FMLA allows a new parent (including foster and adoptive parents) to take up to 12 weeks of leave (unpaid or paid if the employee has earned or accrued it) to care for a new child. The new parent must meet FMLA requirements such as: (1) working for their Employer at least 12 months, (2) working at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months and (3) working at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles. However, if all requirements are met, FMLA is just another layer of protection given to pregnant women.

This Article was first published on the Network on August 4, 2014.

Updated May 15, 2017.