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.
As is the case with sexual harassment, pregnancy harassment is unlawful. According to 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.
Examples of EEOC lawsuits over pregnancy discrimination in the restaurant industry include a September 26, 2012 EEOC press release describing a discrimination lawsuit filed by EEOC attorneys in Houston federal court against a Baytown restaurant chain. In that pregnancy discrimination case, EEOC attorneys charged that restaurant laid off pregnant employees under a discriminatory policy. More specifically, the Houston case included allegations that female employees were laid off after the third month of their pregnancies pursuant to a written policy set out in the company handbook. In discussing the lawsuit, an EEOC Houston Office attorney stated, in part, that the Supreme Court has made it clear that the decision whether a pregnant woman should work rests solely with her and she alone is responsible for making decisions that affect her child, so an employer’s policy which forces leave on a pregnant employee is exactly the type of conduct the Supreme Court has found to be unlawful.
In another example, an EEOC press release dated January 8, 2010 describes an EEOC pregnancy discrimination lawsuit in which a restaurant was charged with unlawfully terminating a salad prep worker due to her pregnancy. According to the press release, the restaurant would not allow the employee to return to work following her pregnancy and childbirth in violation of Title VII, as amended by the PDA. As e result of the lawsuit, the restaurant agreed to pay the employee $16,500 and provide other remedial relief in order to settle the case.
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 pregnancy harassment, occurs in Cuero, Houston, Karnes City or elsewhere in Texas, people subjected to a employment-related pregnancy discrimination and pregnancy 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 pregnancy discrimination complaints. In addition, people subjected to unlawful workplace employment discriminated related to pregnancy may consult an attorney to discuss whether the facts and circumstances of the potential pregnancy harassment or discrimination case support filing of a lawsuit.