For professional working women, the prospect of starting a family might seem risky. You might worry about limiting your advancement prospects by taking maternity leave. You might even worry that your employer will terminate you when they learn that you are pregnant, in order to avoid having to grant you maternity leave at all. Luckily, a number of state and federal laws protect your ability to start a family without risking your career.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the hallmark federal anti-discrimination statute, to expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and childbirth. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a federal agency that enforces the PDA and other anti-discrimination statutes passed by Congress.
New York State law also protects pregnant employees and those on maternity leave from discrimination and retaliation. If your employer fires you in order to avoid letting you take maternity leave or refuses to give you your job back after your maternity leave ends, you have the right to file suit and recover damages for your employer’s violations of federal, state, and/or local law.
It’s important to keep in mind that these laws do not protect your employment just because you are or were pregnant. Instead, these laws prevent your employer from making the decision to terminate you because you are pregnant, and from refusing to take you back from maternity leave.
In other words, you can still lose your job for other reasons, such as poor performance, inappropriate conduct, restructuring by the employer, and so forth.
In fact, if you bring a discrimination lawsuit against your employer, they will surely try to raise these allegedly legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons to defend against your claims. The employer will assert that they fired you for the same reason that they would fire any other employee, regardless of their sex or pregnancy status.
Your attorney’s job will be to demonstrate that your employer had discriminatory intent when they decided to fire you and that your pregnancy played a role in your employer’s decision to terminate your employment.
Being a working woman comes with all sorts of challenges, and keeping your job if you become pregnant shouldn’t be one of them. If you believe that your employer discriminated against you because you are or were pregnant, contact an experienced employment attorney who can fight to protect your interests.