It seems that we have recently received several client inquiries by women who have experienced unfair treatment which they believe was related to informing their employers that they were pregnant. While a pregnancy should be a joyous time in the life of any expectant mother, some employers do not view it that way. Instead of experiencing the happy glow of impending motherhood, some employers see only workplace headaches caused by the employee missing work, requiring irksome accommodations, and possibly leaving the workforce. In fact, in one case Markson Pico LLP recently handled, our client was specifically told by the owner of a clothing manufacturer that her pregnancy caused her to go to the doctor too often, she missed too much work, and she could no longer work at his company! Not every case is so clear cut. In another case handled by Markson Pico LLP, when our client, an accounting firm employee, returned from her pregnancy leave, her old job had been filled due to suspicious and vague "changes in the office." Although she was told that she would eventually get her position back, our client was forced to do much lower level work, lost her office, and was deprived of other benefits she had prior to leaving on pregnancy leave.
In both of these situations, the clients were subjected to discrimination (or unfair treatment) based upon their pregnancies, and that is illegal. Actually, discrimination based upon pregnancy, childbirth, or pregnancy-related medical conditions is treated as sex discrimination under both Federal law (Title VII) as well as under California law (Government Code Section 12926(p) and 12945(a)-(b) (commonly known as the "Fair Employment and Housing Act" or "FEHA").
Typically, to be able to show pregnancy discrimination, a plaintiff must show that her employer knew she was pregnant as well as be able to show the employer's motive in discriminating against her due to her pregnancy. That is not always so easy. As shown by our examples, sometimes –very rarely- discrimination is as obvious as your boss telling you "You cannot work here anymore because you are pregnant." But those types of situations are not common in our experience. Usually discrimination is more subtle and insidious. For example, the employee –who had always received stellar performance reviews- starts receiving poor evaluations and critiques; her job responsibilities seem to be taken away from her; she is forced to do other unpleasant assignments that she had never performed before. Many women tell us they were even subjected to comments related to their pregnancy that while not offensive on their face, left them questioning the motive of the speaker. (E.g., "So I bet you'll want to spend more time at home with the new baby, won't you?") These incidents might be completely unrelated and coincidental to the woman's pregnancy, or, they may be subtle attempts by the employer to push a pregnant (or new mom) out the door.
Have you or some woman you know had a workplace experience like this? If so and you would like to speak with an attorney about it, please call Markson Pico LLP. We would like to discuss it with you.