How employers fire pregnant women – and get away with it

Because the Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not protect pregnancy complications, employers can terminate pregnant employees who cannot perform certain job functions because of a pregnancy.

For example,  if an employer would fire a non-pregnant employee for missing work to visit the doctor, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act will not protect a similarly-situated pregnant employee just because she is pregnant.  If a pregnant woman can no longer satisfy lifting requirements related to her job, the employer can terminate her.

The limited protections available under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act have resulted in the termination of thousands of pregnant women on the basis that the employer is equally bad to all its employees.

But what about situations where the employer does grant short term leave to non-pregnant employees? Can the employer still refuse to grant leave to a pregnant employee?

This is one issue the Supreme Court will face this week in Young v. United Parcel Service, i.e., to determine whether the history and Congressional Intent of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers to treat pregnant women the same as other temporarily disabled workers.  You can read case material from SCOTUS blog here.

Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978 in direct response to a 1974 decision by the Supreme Court which held that unfavorable treatment of pregnant women was not sex discrimination. See Geduldig v. Aiello, 417 U.S. 484 (1974).

In Geduldig, the Court held that denial of insurance benefits for work loss resulting from a normal pregnancy did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. In enacting the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Congress designated pregnant women as a protected class worthy of more stringent protections.

This is the first case involving the Pregnancy Discrimination Act at the Supreme Court under the present composition– which includes three women.

The case arrives at the Court during a time of renewed emphasis by the President and congressional leaders on gender equality issues, including wage discrimination and sexual assault on college campuses.

Although the Court may decide the case on narrow grounds, it has the potential to produce a comprehensive rethinking of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act for years to come.

If you have questions about pregnancy discrimination or gender discrimination, call the attorneys at Bryan & Terrill Law, 918-935-2777.