Under both Maryland law and federal employment law, pregnancy discrimination is illegal. While these anti-discrimination laws are very clear, a gray area has recently emerged. Several Christian employers have recently been accused of firing unwed pregnant women from their staffs. The firings are blamed on a breach of contract–these employees had signed contracts that stated they would abide by Christian values, including abstaining from premarital sex.
While these employers argue that firing unwed pregnant women is a legal employment contract issue, others have argued that this is an illegal form of discrimination.
The most recent case involves a woman who worked for a Christian college and was engaged, but not yet married, when she became pregnant last year. When her supervisor learned she was pregnant, she fired her.
The fired employee has now sued the college for discrimination.
This school, and others that have been involved in similar cases, maintain that unwed pregnancies violate their employment contracts. It is generally true that employers can fire workers for just about anything, including contract violations that are seemingly completely unrelated to the job–as long as the firing does not violate an employment law. In this case, this line may be difficult to determine.
Firing a person because she is pregnant is illegal, and in this case the college said it fired the woman not for being pregnant but for engaging in premarital sex. However, it was the woman’s pregnancy that ultimately tipped off her employer and spurred the firing–something that a male employee engaged in the same activities would not need to worry about. So, this is a very complicated area of law, and it will be interesting to learn how the courts decide this case.
Source: Huffington Post, “Teri James, Pregnant Woman Allegedly Fired For Premarital Sex Sues Christian School,” Katherine Bindley, March 1, 2013