I Was Discriminated Against Due to My Pregnancy. What are My Rights as an Employee?

By Douglas Lipsky

It may seem surprising that pregnancy discrimination remains a pressing concern in a progressive city like New York. However, countless employees still face unjust treatment due to their pregnancy status. Let’s take a closer look at pregnancy discrimination and how to protect your rights. 

What Is Pregnancy Discrimination? 

Pregnancy discrimination occurs when an employee or job applicant is treated unfairly because of pregnancy, childbirth, or pregnancy-related conditions. Employers can engage in this type of discrimination in several ways: 

  • Refusing to hire a pregnant applicant despite being qualified
  • Firing or laying off an employee due to pregnancy
  • Overlooking a pregnant employee for a promotion or raise without a valid reason
  • Treating a pregnant employee differently from others in terms of work assignments, benefits, or opportunities
  • Not providing necessary adjustments or modifications that allow a pregnant worker to perform her job, such as temporary reassignment

No matter how it occurs, pregnancy discrimination is illegal, but victims have powerful legal recourse under applicable anti-discrimination laws. 

How Federal and New York Laws Protect Pregnant Workers

Federal, state, and city laws protect the rights of pregnant workers. Understanding these regulations can empower employees to stand up against discrimination. 

At the federal level, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or job applicants due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions. In addition to the PDA, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which took effect in June 2023, requires employers to grant reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers similar to those required for disabled employees. 

Also, the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) offers added protection to pregnant workers. The NYSHRL mandates that employers cannot discriminate against an employee due to pregnancy and must provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy-related conditions unless it causes undue hardship to the business.

Finally, the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) not only prohibits discrimination but also mandates employers to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The law emphasizes a proactive approach where employers are required to initiate and engage in a cooperative dialogue with the affected employee to determine suitable accommodations.

Legal Remedies For Pregnancy Discrimination

If you have experienced pregnancy discrimination, legal avenues are available. One option is to file a complaint with federal or state agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the New York State Division of Human Rights. 

You must file an administrative complaint before filing a lawsuit under federal law. However, there is no such requirement in New York. This means you can file a lawsuit in state court to recover damages without filing a complaint first. While it’s possible to confront pregnancy discrimination alone, having an employment lawyer by your side offers several advantages. An experienced pregnancy discrimination lawyer can:

  • Provide clarity on the laws, processes, and the most viable course of action
  • Help gather crucial evidence, such as witness testimonies and documentation, to build a robust case
  • Negotiate a settlement on your behalf, ensuring you receive fair compensation
  • File a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit if necessary

Depending on the circumstances, you may be entitled to compensation such as back pay, front pay, compensatory damages for emotional distress, and attorney fees. 

The Takeaway

Although pregnancy discrimination persists in New York and around the country, understanding your rights and legal options can be powerful tools against such injustice. If you believe your employer has discriminated against you due to your pregnancy status, talk to an experienced employment lawyer.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.