What does pregnancy discrimination look like in real life? We speak with women every day who have experienced pregnancy discrimination. We have seen that pregnancy discrimination takes many forms.
To start, you should know that discrimination is any “adverse employment action”—denying you any concrete employment benefit—because of your pregnancy. Obviously, this is a very broad standard, but it does require something concrete to change about your work. Maybe you are paid less. Maybe you are sidelined. Maybe you are denied leave. These are all examples of pregnancy discrimination. (Learn more about how to prove pregnancy discrimination here.) These are just examples.
Example #1: Lost Assignments, Bonuses, or Career Trajectory
Sometimes pregnancy discrimination is subtle, and clients wonder if it's even happening. We have several clients, mostly in professional fields, who were slotted to work on a number of important, high-profile projects before their pregnancy. Their bosses enthusiastically discussed these projects with them just weeks or days before they shared the news of their pregnancy. Things were going great.
All of a sudden, they found themselves on the outside looking in as the projects got off the ground and someone else was in charge. They discussed this with their bosses and were essentially gaslighted.
At the end of the year, as they approached maternity leave, their bonuses and performance reviews suffered because they hadn't exhibited the "growth" their employers "wanted." Of course, they had been trying to "grow" the whole time, but their employers wouldn't let them. This is an example of pregnancy discrimination.
Example #2: Being Denied Accommodations
Sometimes pregnancy discrimination comes in the form of being treated worse than other employees who need accommodations. Maybe you work at a large facility where other disabled workers are granted accommodations regularly, but you ask for a minor modification, such as a lifting restriction or additional breaks, which is denied. If this happens, your employer is treating you differently because of your pregnancy—why else do other employees receive accommodations, but your requests are denied?
Example #3: Having Hours or Benefits Cut
Sometimes pregnancy discrimination takes the form of having hours or benefits cut. This can mean being converted to part-time, which in turn causes you to lose benefits, right before you would add your child to your plan. This is one way cheap employers try to save money at the expense of families and pregnant employees.
Other times, employers cut pregnant employees’ hours in a not-so-subtle effort to get them to quit. If you cannot make a living, of course you will have to find another job. HR departments think they are less at risk of liability for lawsuits if you quit. So rather than fire you outright, they may cut your hours in an ongoing attempt to force you to find another job. This is illegal if it happens because of your pregnancy.
Example #4: Being Denied Leave
Sometimes pregnancy discrimination takes the form of being denied leave for your pregnancy-related medical conditions or for baby bonding time. Employers go out of their way to deny you leave. This allows them to save money on health insurance or other benefits—because they would be required to continue your benefits while you are on protected leave—and it pressures you to quit. Again, employers sometimes hope you will resign rather than put up with their inflexibility and harassment. This is discriminatory.
Example #5: Being Terminated While on Leave
Although it is clearly illegal, many employers terminate people while they are on job-protected FMLA leave or leave under the Pregnancy Disability Leave Law. If this happens to you, it is probably illegal and discriminatory.
This is especially common in the era of COVID, when employers think they have an "excuse" to terminate pregnant workers. They claim business is slow at the same time they are advertising our client's positions on Indeed or other job sites, as though we can't search the Internet.
Example #6: Being Terminated for Pretextual Reasons
Other times employers will try to pin mistakes on you to have an excuse for terminating you because of your pregnancy. They may try to blame you for the mistakes of others; write you up for minor transgressions that are forgiven for all other employees; or blatantly lie about why you are terminated. These are all signs of pretext—and if this comes in close proximity to your pregnancy or job-protected leave, it is often a sign of discrimination.
Example #7: Being Prevented from Breastfeeding
Often, women return to work only to find that their employers are annoyed they have to accommodate their breastfeeding needs. While the law provides robust protections to breastfeeding mothers, and requires employers to provide significant lactation accommodations, some employers simply do not want to deal with it. They may ignore your requests for accommodations or take only the most minimal steps to ensure you have access to compliant facilities.
We are truly passionate about representing victims of pregnancy discrimination. If you have experienced these or any other consequences because of your pregnancy, we will lend a compassionate ear and talk to you about your options. We'll also share a copy of our Pregnant at Work: Guide and Toolkit, which walks you through best practices at every step of your pregnancy and return to work.
If you have been discriminated against due to you pregnancy, do not hesitate to contact us today through our website or give us a call at (213) 214-3757 for a free case evaluation.