The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants or employees on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions. If you believe your employer has fired you or otherwise discriminated against you because of your pregnancy, you may want to file a discrimination lawsuit. Before you can, however, you must file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and receive a right to sue letter.
What Is Pregnancy Discrimination?
Pregnancy discrimination is prohibited in every aspect of employment. For example, an employer may not:
- refuse to consider an applicant because she is pregnant
- fire an employee because she is pregnant
- require an employee to take leave at a certain point in her pregnancy, if she is able to work and wants to continue doing so, or
- deny an employee job opportunities, such as training or promotions, based on the mistaken belief that she will not return to work after having a baby.
Employers must treat workers who are temporarily unable to work because of pregnancy just as they treat workers with any other temporary disability, such as a broken leg or heart attack. Employers are required to make special arrangements for pregnant employees, but they can’t deny them opportunities made available to others who are temporarily disabled. For example, if an employer offers disability leave, temporary job modifications, or other accommodations to employees with temporary disabilities, it must make those same benefits available to pregnant employees.
Filing a Charge of Discrimination
If you believe your employer has discriminated against you because of your pregnancy, you can file a charge of discrimination with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In fact, you must file a charge if you want to file a discrimination lawsuit; it’s a legal requirement.
To file a charge, you must provide some basic information about yourself, your employer, and what happened that you believe was discriminatory. You must file the charge within 180 days after the discriminatory incident(s). If a state or local agency enforces a pregnancy discrimination law, this time limit is extended to 300 days. Once the EEOC gets your charge, it will send a copy to your employer. The EEOC may invite you and your employer to mediate the dispute, may investigate your claims, or may even litigate on your behalf (this is extremely rare). If it decides you missed the deadline for filing a charge or it doesn’t have jurisdiction over your claims, the EEOC may dismiss them.
Getting a Right to Sue Letter
Unless it plans to sue on your behalf, the EEOC will issue you a right to sue letter when it has finished processing your claim. This letter simply states that the agency has completed its work and you are free to file a lawsuit. If you know you want to sue, you can request a right to sue letter from the EEOC at any time. If more than 180 days have passed since you filed your charge, the EEOC must issue the letter. If not, the EEOC will issue the letter if it believes that it won’t complete its investigation of your claims within 180 days.
Getting Legal Help
Once you receive a right to sue letter, you must act fast. You have only 90 days to file a lawsuit, if you wish to do so. That’s one reason why it’s a good idea to talk to a lawyer, even before you file your charge. A lawyer can evaluate your case and review possible outcomes with you. If you decide to proceed, a lawyer can help you negotiate with your employer, file your charge with the EEOC, and, if necessary, file a lawsuit to protect your rights.