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Pregnant Employees Protected By Federal Law:
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act modified Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit gender discrimination based on the basis of pregnancy. The Act prohibits discrimination based upon an employee’s pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions as well as retaliation against the employee for seeking to enforce her rights under the Act.

The Act does not, however, require that employers give preferential treatment to pregnant employees. An employer does violate the Act if it denies a pregnant employee a benefit generally available to temporarily disabled workers holding similar job positions. The Act applies to employers with fifteen or more employees.

There are two types of discrimination under the Act. The first type is disparate treatment where the employer treats an employee less favorable than others because of her pregnant condition. Proof of a discriminatory motive is critical although in some cases it can be inferred from the mere difference in treatment. The second type of discrimination is disparate impact which involves employment practices that are facially neutral but in fact fall more harshly on pregnant employees and cannot be justified by business necessity.

An employee states a disparate impact claim by establishing that she was a member of a protected classification (that is, she is pregnant), she was qualified for the job, she suffered an adverse employment action, and she suffered from a different application of work or disciplinary rules. The prima facia case may be established through direct evidence of a discriminatory intent, statistical evidence showing a pattern of discrimination, or circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence might be a supervisor’s note found in an employee’s personnel file saying “fire her, I heard she is pregnant.”
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