Under federal law, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees or job applicants on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions. If you believe that your employer has fired you or discriminated against you because of your pregnancy or related conditions, you may be able to file a discrimination lawsuit. However, before you do so, you must file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and secure a right to sue letter.
What Constitutes Pregnancy Discrimination?
Pregnancy discrimination involves treating women employees or job applicants unfavorably on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or conditions that are related. Pregnancy discrimination may include any one or all of the following:
- Denying a job to a pregnant applicant.
- Firing or demoting an employee who is pregnant.
- Refusing the same or similar job to a pregnant employee when she returns from maternity leave.
- Treating a pregnant employee differently than other employees who are on temporary disability.
- Failing to grant a male employee health insurance coverage for his wife's pregnancy-related conditions if the male employee has comprehensive health insurance coverage through the same company plan.
Under the law, a pregnancy or related condition may be considered a temporary disability. Such conditions may include morning sickness, doctor-ordered bed rest, childbirth, post-partum recovery or any other medical conditions relating to pregnancy or childbirth. Pregnant employees must be given the same treatment and benefits as other employees with temporary disabilities.
EEOC Complaint and Right to Sue Letter
If you believe that your employer has discriminated against you because of your pregnancy or related medical condition, you can file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Such a charge must be filed if you intend to proceed with a discrimination lawsuit. In other words, this EEOC complaint is a precursor to a lawsuit.
To file a charge, you must provide some information about yourself, your employer and describe the discriminatory act or behavior on the part of your employer. You must file the charge within 180 days of the discriminatory incidents or behavior. If a state or local agency enforces a pregnancy discrimination law, this time limit is extended to 300 days. Once you file the charge with the EEOC, the agency will send a copy to your employer. The EEOC may ask you and your employer if mediation is preferred. The agency may also conduct an investigation into your claims. If you miss the deadline for filing the charge, your claim may be dismissed. This is why it is critical to pay attention to filing deadlines.
The EEOC will issue you a right to sue letter when it is done processing your claim. The only exception is when the agency plans to sue on your behalf, which is rare. If you know you wish to file a lawsuit, you can request this letter from the EEOC at any time. If more than 180 days have passed since you file your charge, the EEOC must give you this letter. If not, the agency will issue the letter if it believes that it will not finish investigating your claims within 180 days.
Getting Legal Help
Once you receive the right to sue letter from the EEOC, it is crucial that you act quickly because you have only 90 days to file an employment lawsuit. This is why it's important that you talk to an experienced pregnancy discrimination attorney right away. A knowledgeable lawyer can help assess the facts of your case and review potential outcomes. If you decide to move forward, your employment lawyer can help you negotiate with your employer, file a charge with the EEOC and if necessary or file a lawsuit on your behalf to help protect your rights.