Study shows today’s subtle nature of workplace pregnancy discrimination

Both federal and state laws have been passed to protect pregnant women in the workplace. In the 1970s, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was amended to extend the definition of sex discrimination to include discrimination against pregnant women. The law was known as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and it prohibits employers from firing, demoting, or otherwise discriminating against a woman because she is pregnant.

On the state level, eight states including Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, and Texas have all implemented laws that require certain employers provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. California, for instance, mandates employers transfer pregnant employees to a less strenuous position if the employee makes the request and the request can be reasonably accommodated.

However, despite the protections under various laws afforded to pregnant woman in the workplace, data from a new study suggests that discrimination against these individuals is still happening. However, according to researchers from a recent study, today's discrimination is much more subtle than in years past.

The study

The recent study entitled: Relational Power, Legitimation, and Pregnancy Discrimination was conducted by professors of sociology from both Southwestern University and Ohio State University. The professors analyzed 70 pregnancy discrimination cases from 1986-2003 and 15 cases from 2007-2011 handled by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

The data revealed that 40 percent of all of the gender discrimination workplace complaints involved pregnant women. And, so called "business needs" was cited as the main reason behind most of the cases involving job termination.

Was it simply coincidence that many of the workplace discrimination complaints in the study involved mostly pregnant women? According to researchers-no.

Discrimination loopholes

Researchers argue that employers today are still discriminating against pregnant women but seemingly getting creative with how they go about doing it.

They conclude that many employers today are citing "business needs" (such as poor business performance or a reduction in company revenue) as the reason behind the negative actions taken against pregnant employees. This is because, under the law, a so-called "business need" is a legitimate and legal reason to fire or take action against any employee, pregnant or otherwise.

Unfortunately, many negative actions taken against pregnant employees cited as business reasons are blatantly suspect.

A case in point

A case in point involves a case of a pregnant restaurant manager who was laid off. The restaurant employer in question indicated the need to downsize management staff from two to three managers as a result of "economic conditions." However, out of the three managers, the pregnant woman was the one let go. Soon after her release, the restaurant cited "improvements in their revenues" and rehired to fill the position-this time they hired a male for the job.

This case is one of many in which employers are taking more subtle approaches to workplace discrimination to avoid legal recourse-particularly with discrimination against pregnant women.

The advice of an attorney

Individuals who feel they have suffered negative action from their employers because of a pregnancy are encouraged to contact an employment law attorney for advice. A lawyer knowledgeable in this area of law can offer guidance on legal recourse as it pertains to individual circumstances.