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Texas employees who are pregnant or recently returning from maternity leave are protected from employment discrimination

In 1964, the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. The Civil Rights Act was a landmark piece of legislation that ended segregation of public places and banned discrimination based on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The Civil Rights Act did much to combat the discrimination that was common throughout the United States at the time. However, as years passed, it became clear that the Act was not as comprehensive as lawmakers may have hoped or believed.

In the wake of the Civil Rights Act, women were still being made the victim of discrimination. This is at least partly because the Civil Rights Act protected female employees only on the basis that they were women. Thus, soon after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, courts held that an employer could legally base an employment decision on whether an employee was pregnant.

The seminal Supreme Court decision came down in 1974, and involved the availability of medical benefits. In that case, a public employer refused to cover the costs of health benefits for pregnant women. The court held that an employer who uses an employee’s pregnancy status as a basis for an employment decision is not making a decision based on a woman’s sex, and is not prohibited.

In 1978, however, the United States Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Quite simply, the Act prohibited employers from discriminating based on pregnancy. The Act clarified language in the Civil Rights Act, noting that the terms “because of sex” or “on the basis of sex” include, “because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” The Act goes on to mandate that women who are affected by a pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes.

According to a recent article by the New York Times, despite the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, women are still experiencing discrimination in the workplace. Indeed, studies have shown that a woman’s pay is reduced, on average, four percent for each child they have, whereas a man’s pay increases by six percent when he becomes a father.

The article notes that the number of pregnancy discrimination claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been steadily increasing for 20 years, and is near an all-time high. Claims of pregnancy discrimination are not limited to the private sector, as many of the claims were brought by women working for the state, local and federal governments.

The article notes that, as soon as a woman starts to show physical signs of pregnancy, employers begin to view a woman differently. The piece details the career of a particularly successful trader who was praised as being at the top of her field until she announced that she was pregnant. Shortly after sharing the news with her boss, she was told that her decision to get pregnant would “plateau” her career. Despite arranging her schedule to ensure that family would not interfere with her work obligations, the employee has been passed over for every promotion and received only cost-of-living salary increases when many of her colleagues were given more significant increases.

Unfortunately, this woman’s case is not unique. Some less than honorable employers routinely engage in sex discrimination. And the problems do not stop once the baby arrives. New mothers also frequently experience discrimination when returning to the workplace, either on the basis of having been recently pregnant or based on their new status as a mother. Mothers returning from maternity leave often face assumptions that their work is no longer their top priority. However, when employers act on this assumption without any evidence to support a decreased commitment to the job, they may be engaging in discrimination based on familial status.

As is often the case with most types of discrimination, pregnancy discrimination is commonly based on outdated beliefs and stereotypes. However, some truly well-intentioned employers can still go awry based on a lack of understanding of the applicable laws. Employers should be sure to have a firm understanding of the Family Medical Leave Act, short- and long-term disability, and the requirements of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to ensure that they do not inadvertently discriminate on the basis of an employee’s sex. Employees who believe that they may have been the victim of pregnancy discrimination should consult with a dedicated Austin employment law attorney for assistance.

Contact a dedicated Austin employment discrimination attorney

At the Law Offices of Gregory D. Jordan, Attorney Jordan represents both employers and employees in all types of Texas employment lawsuits and arbitration matters. Attorney Jordan has over 25 years of relevant experience assisting businesses and employees in Travis County and throughout Central Texas. Contact the Law Offices of Gregory D. Jordan at http://www.theaustintriallawyer.com/.

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