The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against women on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Although the PDA has been in effect since 1978, discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace continues to be an issue. In fact, in fiscal year 2019, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received over 2700 charges of discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and collected more than $22 million dollars in monetary settlements.
Under both state and federal law, Texas employees are protected from discrimination based on pregnancy and pregnancy-related illnesses; however, that was not always the case.
Originally, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin was not interpreted by the courts to include protection for pregnancy and related medical conditions. During this time, employers were able to make decisions based on the fact an employee was pregnant. It was not until over a decade later, with the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) that pregnancy was covered. Since the passage of the PDA, discrimination based “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” has been prohibited because it is considered to be discrimination based on a person’s sex.
Under the PDA, women who are pregnant or are suffering from pregnancy-related illnesses cannot be discriminated against. Common pregnancy-related illnesses include:
As we’ve discussed in previous posts, federal discrimination laws prohibit employers from engaging in discriminatory conduct during employment. This also includes the pre-employment interview process. Employers cannot make a hiring decision based on a person’s age, race, religion, sex, national origin, or disability.
Sometimes, employers trying to gather as much information as possible about an applicant will rely on preconceived notions and stereotypes in doing so.
A few of the problematic questions employers routinely ask are:
- whether an applicant is married, engaged, single, or divorced;
- whether an applicant has any children and, if so, how old they are;
- whether an applicant plans on becoming pregnant;
- what an applicant’s spouse or boyfriend does for a living;
- whether an applicant attends religious services and, if so, what days; and
- the origins of an applicant’s last name.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Civil Rights Act) was monumental in that it provided crucial rights to many people who had been denied equal treatment for many years. While the Act prohibited discrimination based on certain bases, other bases were left uncovered. One area of Texas employment discrimination the Civil Rights Act did not solve was pregnancy discrimination. Following the Civil Rights Act, employers continued to discriminate against women on the basis of their pregnancy. When it came time to explain their seemingly discriminatory behavior, employers routinely claimed they were basing their actions not on the sex of the employee (which was prohibited under the Act) but instead on the fact that the employee was pregnant. This was an unfortunate but accepted distinction for 14 years.
In 1978, however, things changed for the better with the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978. Technically, the PDA was an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The text of the PDA was short, and the message was straightforward. Essentially, discrimination on the basis of “pregnancy, child birth, or related medical conditions” was considered sex discrimination. Thus, an employer could no longer discriminate on the basis of an employee’s pregnant status, since doing so would amount to sex discrimination.