- Oatridge Security Group, Inc. will pay $375,000 to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit alleging that a supervisor on the Seattle Tunnel Project was fired shortly after she told her manager she was pregnant and would need leave, the commission announced Nov. 13. A manager allegedly told her that security work was not proper for a pregnant woman.
- The employee attempted to get her job back multiple times but the company refused, according to EEOC. She filed a charge with the commission, “and the manager retaliated by telling her that she would never work for Oatridge again,” the agency said.
- In addition to the financial settlement, the EEOC said the company agreed to put into place policies, procedures, and training to ensure a discrimination-free workplace and to enhance accountability and oversight of managers and employees.
Combating pregnancy discrimination is a top priority for the EEOC, according to the director of the agency’s Seattle field office. In the fiscal year 2019, EEOC said it resolved nearly 3,000 charges alleging pregnancy discrimination.
There are several laws that provide protection and leave for pregnant women. At the federal level, Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of pregnancy. The EEOC said it views discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions as a prohibited form of sex discrimination which means that an employer cannot fire, refuse to hire, demote or take any other adverse action because of pregnancy. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows parents to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for the birth or placement of a child, so long as they meet the law’s eligibility requirements. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also may provide additional leave for employees who qualify.
State and local laws should also be examined as many states and municipalities have adopted laws that forbid pregnancy discrimination in all aspects of employment and provide pregnant women with leave rights. In addition, some states have adopted laws requiring employers to accommodate pregnant workers. For example, Kentucky in 2019 enacted such a law. While the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill in January that would require employers to accommodate pregnant workers, the bill has seen no movement since then.
The issue of discriminatory treatment often comes up when an employer denies light duty to a pregnant worker but has granted it to other workers, such as those injured on the job or who have disabilities as defined by the ADA. That and other types of accommodation may be actionable under the PDA.
HR can ensure supervisors are trained on the requirements of applicable laws and taught when to escalate requests to HR, experts say.