Pregnancy discrimination by employers is illegal under both the California Fair Housing and Employment Act (FEHA) and Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). If you are a victim of pregnancy discrimination, you may be able to recover
- lost wages and benefits,
- civil penalties,
- and attorney’s fees and court costs.
A type of sex discrimination, pregnancy-related discrimination occurs when an employer treats you with less favor than any other worker because of your
- childbirth, or
- related medical-condition.
An example of pregnancy discrimination is when a company engages in employment practices that limit your promotion opportunities because you are pregnant.
Other laws protecting pregnant employees
The above discrimination laws are just one example of how the State seeks to protect working women. Other laws that aim at this same protection include:
- pregnancy disability leave laws,
- maternity leave laws, and
- laws on lactation breaks and pumping breast milk.
Other types of employment discrimination
Note that pregnancy discrimination is only one form of unlawful employment discrimination in California. It is equally against the law for an employer in California to discriminate against you on the basis of:
Here at Shouse Law Group, we have helped countless pregnant women and new mothers get reinstated to their jobs and win large financial settlements after having been unlawfully discriminated against by their employers. In this article, our California labor and employment lawyers will answer the following frequently-asked-questions about your rights and legal recourses:
- 1. What is pregnancy discrimination?
- 2. Is this discrimination prohibited in the workplace?
- 3. How do I prove pregnancy discrimination?
- 4. Am I protected?
- 5. What is a California pregnancy discrimination demand letter?
- 6. Is this different than a CRD complaint?
- 7. Are there federal laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination?
1. What is pregnancy discrimination?
Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy means that an employer treats pregnant employees, or pregnant job applicants, with less favor than other workers.
More specifically, you have to show the following to succeed in a pregnancy discrimination claim:
- the employer was subject to California’s pregnancy discrimination laws (for example, it had five or more employees),
- the employer treated you unfairly in some way (such as failing to promote or hire you),
- this unfair treatment related to your pregnancy in some way, and
- you were harmed because of the unfair treatment.1
“Unfair” employment decisions include firing you solely on the basis that you were pregnant.
Pregnancy discrimination examples
Other examples of pregnancy discrimination are if you:
- were denied sick leave because you were pregnant,
- received new job assignments that involved less pay due to your pregnancy,
- were deprived training and education that other co-workers received because you were pregnant,
- were denied health insurance, health benefits, bonuses, or fringe benefits due to your pregnancy, and/or
- underwent layoffs because you were pregnant.
In our experience, employers try to hide their pregnancy discrimination behind such excuses as “cutting costs” or suddenly giving you negative performance reviews for no reason. Covert discrimination is just as illegal as blatant discrimination.
2. Is this discrimination prohibited in the workplace?
Pregnancy discrimination is generally prohibited in California workplaces.
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is the statute that seeks to uphold the fair treatment of pregnant workers.
- applies to employers with five or more employees (other than religious organizations and nonprofits),2 and
- says that it is unlawful for these employers to discriminate against you on the basis of pregnancy.3
Pregnancy discrimination is a form of sex discrimination under California law.5
Note that FEHA also requires employers to provide you – if you are disabled by your pregnancy – with reasonable accommodations.6 Examples may include:
- more frequent breaks to take meds, hydrate, or use the ladies’ room;
- time off for prenatal care medical appointments;
- job modifications allowing you to sit more and to avoid dangerous machinery and lifting heavy things;
- ergonomic furniture;
- flex time, telecommuting, or other schedule changes; or
- help with physically taxing duties.
A reasonable accommodation may also include a period of leave if
- your pregnancy precludes you from performing “essential job functions” or
- your current job endangers you or your pregnancy.
Conditions that trigger FEHA leave
Examples of pregnancy-related conditions that may justify leave include:
- morning sickness / hyperemesis gravidarum,
- gestational diabetes,
- childbirth recovery,
- post-partum depression.
Your employer has the right to see a doctor’s note (“certification“) justifying your requested accommodations. Your employer is also obligated to participate in an “interactive process” with you (and if necessary your medical team) to decide which accommodations make sense.
Other laws providing leave
Note too that the state has four other laws that grant “leave rights” to pregnant employees and women with newborns. These include:
- the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which grants up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for serious health conditions including pregnancy-related disabilities;7
- California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDL), which grants up to four months of unpaid leave for pregnancy-related disabilities;
- the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), which grants up to 12 weeks of baby-bonding leave; and
- California State Disability Insurance (SDI) program, which provides up to four weeks of paid leave for a pregnancy-related disability and eight weeks of paid leave for baby-bonding.
If you are in San Francisco, you may be entitled to six weeks of extra pay for baby-bonding.
3. How do I prove pregnancy discrimination?
From our decades of combined experience fighting for pregnant workers who were discriminated against, we find that the major signs that you suffered an adverse employment action because of your pregnancy include:
- You were treated worse than employees who are not pregnant;
- Your employer said or implied that your pregnancy was a problem or would hurt the company;
- Your employer justified your termination/demotion/pay cut/etc. with an untrue reason.
Typical evidence we rely on to prove pregnancy discrimination and retaliation includes eyewitness accounts, recorded communications (such as emails and texts), and accounting documents. We advise you document everything and keep any relevant evidence to help us build your case.
4. Am I protected?
California law says that it is unlawful to discriminate against pregnant workers.
“Workers” includes the following:
- employees (both permanent and temporary, full-time or part-time),
- applicants, and
- unpaid interns.8
5. What is a California pregnancy discrimination demand letter?
A pregnancy discrimination demand letter “demands” that your employer stop certain discriminating practices against you. You state within the letter that if these practices are stopped, then you will not take the matter further.
If your employer fails to cease the discriminating behavior, however, the letter informs that you will notify proper authorities and initiate a civil lawsuit.
We are very skilled at preparing concise and effective pregnancy discrimination letters that outline the specific facts that give rise to our clients’ pregnancy discrimination claims. In most cases, the demand letter is sufficient to propel the employer to end their discrimination and to make equitable and monetary amends.
6. Is this different than a CRD complaint?
Pregnancy discrimination demand letters are different from a CRD complaint.
California law states that in most cases, before you can file a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit, you must first file a complaint with the applicable government agency.9 The complaint outlines the specific discriminatory acts that your employer committed.
If your pregnancy discrimination claim is based on California law, then you would file a complaint with California’s Civil Rights Department (CRD), formerly California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
If your claim is based on a violation of federal law, then you would file a complaint with either:
- CRD, or
- the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), based in Washington, DC.
The CRD or EEOC will then investigate the matter and either:
- take no action, upon which you can file a lawsuit if you wish, or
- pursue an action against your employer on behalf of you.
7. Are there federal laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination?
There are federal laws in the United States that prohibit pregnancy discrimination. Many of these laws are enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
The main federal law is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), which protects women experiencing:
- childbirth, or
- any pregnancy-related condition or pregnancy-related disability.10
There are several other federal laws that offer protections to pregnant workers and those with new children. Some of these include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
- the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and
- the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.
Note that California law (FEHA) provides slightly greater protection to pregnant workers when it comes to discrimination. This is because FEHA applies to employers with five or more employees, while federal law (PDA) applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a pregnancy discrimination attorney, we invite you to contact our law firm at Shouse Law Group. We provide legal advice that you can trust. We assist clients throughout the state of California, including San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the Inland Empire.
See our related articles on unpaid leave and paid family leave in California and parental leave and examples of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) resources
- CACI No. 2500. Disparate Treatment—Essential Factual Elements. Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (2017 edition). See also California Gov. Code 12940 GC.
- California Gov. Code 12926d GC. See also Abed v. Western Dental Services, Inc. .
- California Gov. Code 12926r1A GC. See also California Gov. Code 12940a and 12945 GC. See also Malloy v. Superior Court (.
- See same.
- California Gov. Code 12926r1A GC.
- California Gov. Code 12940 GC. See also Sanchez v. Swissport, Inc. (2013) 213 Cal.App.4th 1331.
- The FMLA applies only to businesses with at least 50 employees that work within 75 miles of each other, and you must have worked at least 1250 in the prior year. Note that FMLA and PDL leave can run concurrently if your boss requires it.
- California Gov. Code 12940(c), (j), and (l) GC. Shephard v. Loyola Marymount Univ. (2002) 102 Cal.App.4th 837.
- California Gov. Code 12960b GC.
- 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq.