If you have been following the Democratic presidential race at all, you may have heard Elizabeth Warren's claim that, in 1971, she was forced out of a job as a teacher because she was pregnant. At that time, pregnancy wasn't a characteristic protected by federal anti-discrimination laws. It wasn't until 1978 that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) to prohibit pregnancy discrimination.
In a hearing of the House Education and Labor subcommittee, lawmakers uniformly agreed that the nation's workplace anti-discrimination laws should be fully enforced. That said, some raised concerns about changes at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs (OFCCP).
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is a federal law that prohibits employment discrimination "because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions." In 2015, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., that employers must offer accommodations to pregnant employees that are at least equivalent to those provided to employees with disabilities.
The New York Times has published a prominent report on pregnancy discrimination in America's workforce. Reporters interviewed dozens of women who claim to have suffered pregnancy discrimination, along with their lawyers and a number of government officials. They also reviewed thousands of pages of public records and court documents. They identified a clear pattern of systemic discrimination at many of our nation's biggest and most prestigious companies.
On August 4, 2016, a Washington D.C. jury ordered Chipotle, the popular Mexican restaurant chain, to pay $550,000 for discriminating against a former employee due to her pregnancy. The plaintiff in the case, Doris Garcia Hernandez, was fired after enduring months of discriminatory acts at work.
Anyone who has been pregnant knows that pregnancy can be debilitating at times. Even in the healthiest and least complicated of pregnancies, women can be brought down by nausea and have to stop doing routine tasks at home and work due to doctors' orders to stop lifting. For many women, these are only minor inconveniences because they will pass and there are people to help out in the meantime. For other women, such side effects of pregnancy may lead to a job loss.
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.
Although women's rights in Maryland's workplaces have advanced significantly in recent decades, there is still some work to be done. Sexual harassment and discrimination based on gender, age and pregnancy have all been banned by federal employment law, however, many working women still face unique legal challenges that do not plague their male counterparts.