The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
Employees have protections afforded by Federal and State law and can’t be terminated from employment nor denied employment for discriminatory reasons. It is fairly common knowledge that pregnant women may not be discriminated against in the hiring process or in the workplace due to their pregnancy. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Federal law prohibits discrimination in nearly all circumstances of employment based on race, color, religion, gender pregnancy or national origin. In general, Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, and the intent of the protection provided by Title VII is to force employers to consider only objective, job-related criteria in making employment decisions.
The PDA provides that pregnant women are to be treated the same as other employees who are disabled. The employer’s policies for taking leave, health benefits during leaves, and reinstatement after leave applies equally to pregnant women and other employees. Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. Women affected by pregnancy 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.
Women must not be discriminated against with regard to job opportunities or benefits because they might get pregnant. The PDA was adopted in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in General Electric Co. v. Gilbert, when the Court ruled that an employer’s practice of excluding pregnant employees from receiving benefits under its temporary disability plan did not constitute sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. The U.S. Congress subsequently overruled the Court’s decision by enacting the PDA, which amended Title VII to clarify that the statute’s prohibition on discrimination in employment “on the basis of sex” includes discrimination “because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions”.
Here in Texas in 2021, the limits of the protections of the PDA were considered by the 13th Texas Court of Appeals (Corpus Christi). Both the state district court in Hidalgo County and the appeals court decided a female worker fired for discussing her intent to get pregnant had a cause of action entitling her to a jury trial. The employer filed a plea to the jurisdiction seeking dismissal of the case [South Texas College v. Cynthia v. Arriola] claiming “intending to become pregnant” is not a protected class permitting a case under Texas Labor Code Chapter 21; Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA)[i]. Arriola was a long-time employee that was harassed and discriminated against upon discussing her attempts to become pregnant. After she complained to a supervisor she was terminated; Arriola filed suit and the trial court denied the Employer’s plea to the jurisdiction and Employer appealed. Employer argued TCHRA prohibits discrimination because of pregnancy, and Arriola wasn’t pregnant when she was fired.
The Court of Appeals decided “discrimination against an employee because she intends to, is trying to, or simply has the potential to become pregnant is therefore illegal discrimination”.
The Texas Supreme Court denied review of the Petition for Review filed by the Employer on June 18, 2021. It is clear currently the laws in Texas protect legally protected activities such as becoming pregnant, and in fact the PDA protects all medical procedures related to pregnancy; as well as attempting to get pregnant and discussing the attempts at work.
[i] Texas has adopted the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA) as a state version of federal employment statutes. The TCHRA protects employees from discrimination based on race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, age, or genetic information.
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