Understanding Pennsylvania pregnancy discrimination

We are all familiar with federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, race, disability, age, color, participation in protected activity and national origin. As such, we understand that it is illegal to discriminate against someone who is a member of one of those "protected classes" or engaged in a protected activity. Though, sadly, prejudice of that type does still occur, the country has made great strides in these areas since the first federal anti-discrimination laws were passed 50 years ago.

There is still, despite state and federal laws opposing it, rampant discrimination in many locales against women who are pregnant, have recently given birth, have small children or are of childbearing age.

Types of discrimination being reported

Pregnant women around the state of Pennsylvania and across the country are, for the sole reason of their pregnancy:

  • Being denied reasonable accommodations to account for their special needs
  • Missing out on the benefits of seniority
  • Being passed over for promotions
  • Being terminated for taking maternity leave or for other pregnancy-related conditions
  • Not getting jobs
  • Being unfairly denied opportunities given to similarly situated male employees
  • Being unfairly reassigned to lower-paying or lower-responsibility roles
  • Being required to provide extensive medical evidence following childbirth just to be able to return to work (much more evidence than someone returning from short-term disability or a leave of absence would normally be required to submit)

Relevant laws

The issue of pregnancy discrimination was addressed by the federal government with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (which amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964) to prevent discrimination on the basis of:

  • Pregnancy
  • Childbirth
  • Pregnancy or childbirth-related medical conditions

As for state-level laws, Pennsylvania was on the cutting edge of civil rights reform, passing the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act in 1955 (subsequently updated in 1997). This Act prohibits myriad types of discrimination in employment, housing and "public accommodation." The Act's protections are enforced by the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission, which has the right to impose sanctions against non-complying employers, housing agents and those who provide lodging to the public. The PHRA is actually broader than federal laws against discrimination, and in addition to prohibiting prejudice on the basis of age, sex, gender, religion, national origin and race, the state's residents are also protected against discrimination on the basis of:

  • Familial status
  • Ancestry
  • Use of a guide or support animal
  • Handicap/disability

The stark reality

Even with both state-level and federal laws in place, the fact remains that many pregnant women must face discrimination and prejudice in the workplace every day. If you have been discriminated against (not being hired for a job, being passed over for a promotion, etc.) because of your pregnancy or the fact that you recently had a child, you have legal rights. With the assistance of an experienced employment law attorney, you can take the proper steps not only to ensure that your rights are protected, but also to help affect change so that other women don't face the same hardships you have.