The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency charged with investigating allegations of discrimination and other unlawful employment practices, issued a revised Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues (“Enforcement Guidance”) on July 14, 2014. This is the first comprehensive update that the agency has done with regard to pregnancy discrimination since 1983. The revised document discusses the restrictions on employers under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), which amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include pregnancy discrimination as a type of unlawful sex or gender discrimination. It also discusses how the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), relate to pregnancy discrimination.
Title VII, as amended by the PDA, prohibits employment discrimination, which can include disparate treatment, harassment, and denial of reasonable accommodations, based on pregnancy and medical conditions related to pregnancy. The Enforcement Guidance notes that this applies not only to current pregnancies, but also to both past and potential pregnancies. An employer may not discriminate based on an employee’s past pregnancy or pregnancy-related issues, nor may they discriminate based on factors like an employee’s intention to become pregnant, use of fertility treatments, use of contraception, or any actual or perceived risks to the employee of becoming pregnant.
Discrimination based on pregnancy could be obvious, such as when an employer fires or refuses to hire someone because she became pregnant, but it could also be much more subtle. Disparate treatment in assignment of light duty, breaks, and paid or unpaid leave could constitute pregnancy discrimination.