Pregnancy Discrimination Article

Pregnancy Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, prohibits covered employers of 15 or more employees from discriminating against employees or applicants because of pregnancy or pregnancy related conditions with regard to hiring, firing, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, compensation, training, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment.

Pregnancy discrimination is a type of sex discrimination and includes the unfavorable treatment of employees and applicants based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition. Pregnancy discrimination may also include harassment and sexual assault. Further, Discrimination may occur when the victim and the perpetrator both are or have been pregnant.  It is important that an employee notify their employer about a pregnancy in order to help protect the employee from discrimination and retaliation.

Examples of Discrimination

  • Termination or demotion following disclosure of pregnancy
  • Increased scrutiny or disciplinary action due to pregnancy
  • Encouraging an employee to quit because of pregnancy
  • Allowing an employee’s pregnancy to influence a promotional decision
  • Causing disruption or interference with work because of pregnancy
  • Reducing pay or denying raises for pregnant employees
  • Denying changes in duties while granting such for other temporarily disabled employees
  • Denying leave for medical appointments but granting such for non-pregnant employees

Hostile Work Environment (Harassment)

Title VII also prohibits the harassment of an employee due to pregnancy.  Harassment is the unwelcome treatment of an employee due to pregnancy that is frequent or severe enough to alter working conditions and create a demeaning or abusive atmosphere (hostile work environment).  It is critical that you notify management of the harassment.  If possible, do so in writing and save a copy for documentation.  Once an employer knows about the harassment, it is obligated to take effective action to stop it.

This unlawful conduct may include the use of slurs or name-calling, workplace graffiti, threats, inappropriate jokes or gestures, isolation, exclusion, work interference, undermining of authority, humiliation, or other mistreatment.  The harasser may be a supervisor, co-worker, contractor, or client.  The harasser may also be or have been pregnant.


It is also unlawful to punish an employee for complaining to the employer about being discriminated against due to pregnancy or opposing pregnancy discrimination against another employee.  Title VII and the PDA further prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for filing an EEOC discrimination charge, testifying or participating in an investigation about discrimination, assisting in an EEOC proceeding or lawsuit, or opposing employment practices that an employee reasonably believes discriminate against another individual in violation of the law.

Retaliation includes adverse actions such as demotions, disciplinary actions, terminations, and other forms of punishment that tend to dissuade employees from complaining about discrimination. For more information about legally protected activities and examples of unlawful retaliation, see Retaliation page.


Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an impairment resulting from pregnancy such as gestational diabetes may qualify as a disability. For conditions like this, an employer may be obligated to provide a reasonable accommodation (such as a job modification or leave) unless doing so would present an undue hardship to the employer.

When a woman has a temporarily disabling medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth that does not qualify as a disability under the ADA, an employer may be required to treat her the same way as it treats other temporarily disabled employees. For example, if an employer provides light duty work, alternative assignments, disability leave, or leave to other temporarily disabled employees, it may be required to do the same for pregnant employees.

Additionally, if an employer requires a doctor’s note from employees prior to approving leave, it may require the same from expectant mothers. However, an employer may not lawfully impose more stringent requirements on new mothers returning to work than other employees returning to work.

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

As of June 27, 2023, most employers with 15 or more employees are required to reasonably accommodate employees with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or associated medical conditions providing the accommodation does not create an undue hardship on employer operations (causing significant difficulty or expense) and the employee can perform the essential duties of the job with or without the accommodation.

Examples of Accommodations

  • Weight-lifting restrictions
  • Extra bathroom breaks
  • Added time for eating or resting
  • Different work schedule
  • Performing work differently
  • Carrying a water bottle at work
  • Sitting on a stool while working
  • Attending medical appointments
  • Appropriately sized uniform
  • Closer parking
  • Time off to recover from childbirth
  • Excuse from strenuous activities or exposure to unsafe materials
  • Safe and private space to pump breast milk (see Pump Act)

Employers Are Prohibited From

  • Requiring an employee to accept an accommodation without first discussing it.
  • Denying a job or opportunity to a qualified employee because of a needed reasonable accommodation.
  • Requiring an employee to leave her job if another reasonable accommodation would allow her to continue working.
  • Retaliating against an employee for reporting or opposing unlawful discrimination or participating in an investigation.
  • Interfering with an employee's rights under the PWFA.

Accommodations Under Other Provisions

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible new parents (including foster and adoptive parents) may take up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a new child.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), with some exceptions, nursing mothers have the right to express milk in the workplace.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, private sector employees must file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 calendar days of a discriminatory action. You will forfeit important legal rights if you do not file a timely charge with the EEOC. If you’ve already missed a deadline, call to discuss your options.

In addition to federal law, the Wrongful Discharge Against Public Policy (WDPP) law of North Carolina may also prohibit covered employers from firing employees due to pregnancy.  Because the deadline for filing a WDPP claim has fluctuated in recent years, it is recommended that claims be filed without delay.  (see Wrongful Termination page)

If you’ve been subjected to pregnancy discrimination, contact Rich Daugherty.  Whether your employment has been wrongfully terminated, you’re in fear of losing your job unlawfully, or you’re stuck in an untenable situation, contact Rich.

In addition to litigating cases, Rich negotiates confidential severance agreements and executive exit agreements favorable to his clients.

Rich offers a one-on-one relationship with his clients. He will stand by your side every step of the way to resolve your case fairly.

Rich represents clients from across North Carolina, including Raleigh, Durham, Wilmington, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Charlotte, and more. He is available to meet with prospective clients outside of Chapel Hill when circumstances permit. Evening appointments are also available.

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