New York City Still Struggles with Pregnancy Discrimination, Despite Progress

Pregnancy discrimination remains a serious problem throughout the country, despite multiple laws intended to prevent and penalize such practices. New York City pregnancy discrimination attorneys can draw upon federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on pregnancy and childbirth, and municipal laws that require a wide range of accommodations in the workplace. Federal law provides family leave for new parents, although it is unpaid and limited in scope despite its lofty ambitions. New York State makes up some of the difference with a new paid family leave program.

Pregnancy Discrimination vs. Accommodations for Pregnancy

The term “pregnancy discrimination” can encompass both:

1. Adverse actions taken against an employee because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition associated with either; and
2. Failure to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers and workers who have recently had a child.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, includes discrimination based on “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” in its definition of sex discrimination. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(k), 2000e-2(a)(1). The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) prohibits discrimination on the basis of “familial status,” and includes pregnancy, childbirth, and the acquisition of custody of a minor child in its definition of that term. N.Y. Exec. L. §§ 292(26)(a), 296(1)(a). Title VII makes no mention of reasonable accommodations for pregnancy or childbirth.

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) does not specifically address pregnancy discrimination. Instead, it requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to allow a pregnant employee, or one who has given birth, “to perform the essential requisites of the job.” N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(22)(a). This might include extra restroom or water breaks, temporary lifting restrictions, or time needed to express breast milk. The statute requires employers to provide a lactation room for that purpose, along with a refrigerator. Id. at § 8-107(22)(b). The NYSHRL also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for needs based on pregnancy and childbirth. N.Y. Exec. L. §§ 292(21-e), 296(3).

The Broad Ambitions and Limited Scope of Family Leave Laws

Workers in New York State may be eligible for up to ten weeks of paid leave once they have given birth. This also applies to a newborn’s other parent. This law only recently took effect, so the program is still very new.

At the federal level, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was intended, in part, “to entitle employees to take reasonable leave for…the birth or adoption of a child.” Pub. L. 103-3 § 2(b)(2) (Feb. 5, 1993). The law only applies, however, to employers with at least fifty employees. 29 U.S.C. § 2611(4)(A)(i). To be eligible for leave, an employee must have been employed by their current employer for at least twelve months, and must have worked 1,250 hours or more during that time. Id. at § 2611(2)(A). If an employee has accrued leave under both the FMLA and New York law, the two types of leave must run concurrently.

The experienced and skilled employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of New York City employees, former employees, and job seekers who have experienced unlawful employment practices like pregnancy discrimination. Please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

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