Suing for Pregnancy Discrimination in Georgia

Losing your job due to pregnancy is not allowed, and complications must be accommodated

Sexual harassment has become far more scrutinized in the wake of #MeToo, with both awareness and legal claims on the rise. One lesser-known corner of gender-based discrimination is against pregnant women. Adverse employment actions taken against pregnant employees (or those who have just had a baby) are governed by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act/Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

“Even before the MeToo thing, we were already hearing from a lot more people with pregnancy discrimination cases,” says Atlanta employment attorney Marcus Keegan. “For years, I don’t think I had anybody call me about pregnancy discrimination, and in the last three years or so, I’ve just gotten a ton of calls about that.”

Variety of Actions Prohibited

An employer is not allowed to punish an employee for their pregnant condition, whether overtly or based on another reason that serves merely as pretext. Keegan says there’s frequently an overlap between a discrimination claim and mishandling of FMLA leave. Typical scenarios involve women whose jobs aren’t held for them when they take maternity leave, or who aren’t accommodated when they need a less strenuous position while pregnant.

“They may be terminated during pregnancy, or it could be they need a restricted work schedule because of a high-risk pregnancy, and they’re told, ‘We don’t have enough work for you,’” Keegan says. “I’ve had people taking their FMLA leave and getting fired while they’re on leave, or being asked to still do their job while on FMLA leave.”

It’s worth noting that pregnancy is not itself a disability covered under the ADA, but complications or related conditions, such as gestational diabetes or severe back pain, may be. As such, these conditions must be met with the same disability accommodations as would be provided to an employee who is not pregnant.

When handled correctly, a pregnant woman should be able to combine necessary accommodations during pregnancy with unpaid FMLA leave (as well as any additional private disability and/or sick leave benefits) for at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year. During that time, her employer-provided health insurance benefits must be maintained, her job protected, and she may not be asked to perform any portion of her job while on leave, including answering emails or taking phone calls. FMLA applies to all employers with at least 50 employees, and to employees who’ve worked for their employer for at least a year.

Violations More Often by Smaller Employers

Keegan notes that many of the infractions he’s seen have come from small- to medium-sized employers. “It’s less large companies doing these things, because they have a system in place. When someone goes out on FMLA leave, they shut off the email, instruct people not to contact them. But small- to medium-size employers typically do not have that kind of a system, and it’s easier for them to just screw it up.”

If you were terminated during pregnancy, or were subject to negative consequences in your work because of pregnancy, complications, or time taken off at the birth of your baby, you may have a pregnancy discrimination claim. Talk to an experienced employment attorney for an assessment of your situation.

For more information about this area, see our overviews on employment law for employees and discrimination.

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