The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination based on sex, including pregnancy. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. Women affected by pregnancy discrimination or related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.
As stated by the EEOC in its website at www.eeoc.gov , employers cannot refuse to hire a woman because of her pregnancy related condition as long as she is able to perform the major functions of her job. Further, an employer cannot refuse to hire her because of employer prejudices against pregnant workers or because of the prejudices of co-workers, clients or customers. The PDA also forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to others aspects of employment, including pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, firing, and any other term and condition of employment.
With respect to pregnancy and maternity leave, certain employer conduct is also prohibited such as, among other things, singling out pregnancy related conditions for medical clearance procedures not required of employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. Further, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, which is enforced by the United States Department of Labor (DOL), a new parent may be eligible for 12 weeks of leave (unpaid, or paid if the employee has earned or accrued it) that may be used for care of the new child.
Like sexual harassment, harassment based upon pregnancy is unlawful. As described by the EEOC, it is unlawful to harass a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. Harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted). The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
For example, in an October 3, 2012 EEOC press release, the EEOC announced that it sued a farm company for harassment and retaliation arising out of alleged relentless verbal abuse endured by a seasonal worker from her male supervisor. According to the EEOC, the seasonal worker was subjected to unwanted sexual comments and requests for sexual favors and was told constantly that women are inferior to men and that she should submit to her husband, a co-worker at the farm. EEOC attorneys further charged in the lawsuit that the supervisor publicly encouraged the husband to kill her and when he tried to so, the supervisor blamed her for causing her husband’s arrest and fired her. Additional allegations included an incident when she was pregnant and hiding under a table at work when her husband kicked her so savagely in the stomach that she went to the hospital. An EEOC attorney familiar with that case pointed to statistics that nearly one-third of American women report being abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives, commenting that all employers should learn how to respond to domestic violence as it impacts the workplace.
In another example, the EEOC announced in a May 25, 2010 press release that two Dallas and Forth Worth transportation brokerage companies would pay $50,000 and provide additional remedial relief to resolve a discrimination lawsuit filed by EEOC attorneys in a Houston federal court. The Houston lawsuit alleged, in part, that the plaintiff complained about workplace comments, including disparaging a pregnant female worker. Further, the plaintiff contended he was fired after reporting, to human resources, the offensive comments of two coworkers at the company’s Sugar Land, Texas facility. An EEOC Houston attorney quoted in the press release commented that no one should lose their job for alerting human resources to inappropriate workplace behavior.
For Fiscal Year 2013, the EEOC reported in February 5, 2014 news release that it received 93,727 charges. That number represented a 5.7 percent decrease from the 99,412 charges the EEOC received in 2012. As in previous years, retaliation under all statutes enforced by the EEOC was the most frequently cited basis for discrimination charges, increasing in both actual numbers (38,539) and as a percentage of all charges (41.1 percent) from the previous year. In terms of sex discrimination charges, including sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination, there were 27,687 charges filed, constituting 29.5 percent of total charges filed for Fiscal Year 2013. EEOC enforcement and litigation data for Fiscal Year 2013 can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/index.cfm .
Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protect individuals against employment discrimination and harassment based upon sex. At www.twc.state.tx.us/crd/sex-discrimination.html, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) explains that sex discrimination occurs when one is treated differently than other employees because of one’s sex, including pregnancy, and stereotypes and assumptions based on sex. TWC examples of unlawful actions are denial of hiring, termination, promotion or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment.
As stated by the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division (TWC), Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protect employees from employment discrimination based upon sexual harassment also.
Additional general information provided to the public by the TWC shows that sexual harassment can occur whether the harasser is male or female. The harasser can be a supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker or a non-employee. The harasser’s behavior must be unwelcome and anyone can be affected by the offensive conduct.
With respect to the EEOC, further information about the federal agency and the laws it enforces is available on the EEOC website at www.eeoc.gov . In addition, A Houston, Texas office for the EEOC and filing of employment-related complaints about racial harassment is located at Total Plaza, 1201 Louisiana Street, 6th Floor, Houston, Texas 77002. It is open Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 pm. A phone number for the Houston office is listed as 1(800)669-4000. The Houston office of the EEOC oversees Eastern Texas and Louisiana.
Whether workplace sex discrimination, including abusive pregnancy harassment, occurs in Cuero, Houston, Karnes City or elsewhere in Texas, people subjected to a hostile work environment because of pregnancy and related conditions may, depending on the nature of the claim, contact the TWC and EEOC or the DOL to make charges of discrimination and trigger state or federal investigations of sexual harassment complaints. In addition, people subjected to unlawful workplace sexual harassment may consult an attorney to discuss whether the facts and circumstances of the potential pregnancy harassment or discrimination case support filing of a lawsuit.