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Pregnancy Discrimination Act

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Women are continually entering the workforce in various sectors. Working women face challenges in the workplace including unequal pay, sexual harassment, and promotion issues. One particular challenge women face is the fundamental right to have a family, which includes the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Managers in every organization should be familiar with this important act and the associated legal issues. In this paper, I will discuss the Pregnancy Discrimination Act by reviewing the history, presenting the employer's and employee's perspective, and I will conclude with suggestions for all managers and employers.


In 1976 the United States Supreme Court held that an employer's failure to provide disability benefits to pregnant employees did not violate Title VII's prohibition against sex discrimination. General Electric Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125, 97 S. Ct. 401, 50 L. Ed. 2d 343 (1976). The following year, the court held that an employer violated Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination when an employee's seniority rights were forfeited after she returned to work from maternity leave. Nashville Gas Co. v. Satty, 434 U.S. 136, 98 S. Ct. 347, 54 L. Ed. 2d 356 (1977).

The court distinguished between the employer's granting a benefit (disability benefits) and imposing a burden on pregnant employees; only the imposition of a burden would constitute an unlawful employment practice under Title VII. Under this interpretation of Title VII, an employer was free to grant male workers employment benefits that it did not provide to pregnant female employees. As a result to the two Supreme Court decisions, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978, amending Title VII to include pregnancy as a prohibited basis of discrimination. 42 U.S.C. section 2000e-2

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is similar to the AEDA except it deals with pregnancy. The amendment to Title VII requires that an employer treat a pregnant employee the same way as an employee suffering a nonpregnancy-related, temporary disability. However, in some cases, the employer can establish a BFOQ for pregnancy-related discrimination. Terminating a pregnant employee is clearly in violation of Title VII. Also, terminating a pregnant employee because of the assumption that the employee will likely be absent from work for lengthy periods is in violation of the Act. Maldonado v. U.S. Bank [186 F.3d 759 (7th Cir. 1999)]

Employer Perspective

Exception to Law

Employers have a great responsibility with their employees' pregnancy issues now that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is enacted. However, there is an exception for employers to the amended law. Employers can establish a BFOQ for pregnancy-related discrimination. BFOQ is defined as a bona fide occupational qualification, which allows an employer not to be charged with discrimination when business necessity requires that particular discrimination. A business necessity is termed as protecting the business termed through safe and efficient performance of the particular job. Preserving the business through necessity allows justification for intentional discrimination.

Case example

An example of the BFOQ exception for employers is Troupe v. May Dep't Stores Co. case. In this case the employer was protected from the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, because the employee, Troupe, tried to use morning sickness as a valid excuse for her continual tardiness. The undeniable fact is Troupe was tardy. Her lawyer argues with great vigor that she should not be blamed--that she was genuinely ill, had a doctor's excuse, and so forth. Troupe's lawyers' argument would be pertinent if "Troupe were arguing that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires an employer to treat an employee afflicted by morning sickness better than the employer would treat an employee who was equally tardy for some other health reason." (emphasis added)

This argument is incorrect. If an employee who (like Troupe) does not have an employment contract cannot work because of illness, nothing in Title VII requires the employer to keep the employee on the payroll. Also, Troupe is considered an employee at will because she does not have an employment contract. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not allow Troupe to receive more special treatment than another employee, just because she is pregnant. However, she is protected by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to receive the same rights as other individuals who are not pregnant. Troupe v. May Dep't Stores Co., No. 93-2523, UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT, 20 F.3d 734; 738 (7th Cir. 1994).

Employee Perspective


The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (42 U.S.C. § 2000(e)(k)) explicitly states:

"The terms "because of sex" or "on the basis of sex" include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work and nothing in section 2000e-2(h) of this title shall be interpreted to permit otherwise."

As stated in the amendment, pregnant employees have the same rights as other non-pregnant employees. There are several examples of the pregnant employees' rights including medical coverage and benefits, employment continuance rather than termination, and promotions or pay increase.

Case examples

For example in Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. v. EEOC, the employer covered 80 percent of the cost of hospital treatment and expenses for their employees' spouses or dependents, but only provided $500 dollars of coverage for spouses' pregnancy-related



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