- A Texas pub allegedly fired a pregnant bartender because it believed she wouldn’t be safe working there, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity claimed in a lawsuit filed May 15.
- Per the complaint in EEOC v. 1901 South Lamar, LLC, the bartender worked for Corner Bar in Austin. After her pregnancy became visible, the company cut her hours and removed her from the profitable closing shift, the EEOC said in a media release announcing the lawsuit. Her manager later told her the business was “parting ways” with her, according to the complaint. He also allegedly told her the company was “genuinely scared something bad” would happen to her if there was a bar fight and she was becoming “too much of a liability.”
- The EEOC sued Corner Bar, alleging it violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. “Employers violate discrimination laws when they deny women opportunities based on stereotypes and unfounded assumptions about when they are able to do during and after pregnancies,” Robert Canino, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Dallas office, stated in the release. Corner Bar did not respond to a request for a comment prior to press time.
Pregnancy discrimination involves treating an individual — an applicant or employee — unfavorably in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training or benefits, such as leave or health insurance, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
When a pregnant worker is treated unfavorably, it’s often based on stereotypes and assumptions about the employee’s commitment to the job or ability to perform the job while pregnant, an EEOC guidance points out. Decisions based on such stereotypes are unlawful, the guidance warns; for example, an employer cannot refuse to hire a pregnant applicant based on the assumption the new hire will have attendance problems because of pregnancy or will resign after the child is born.
An employer may also run afoul of the law when it takes adverse action against a pregnant worker based on a “paternalistic desire” to protect the employee’s health or on an unfounded assumption that pregnancy makes it unsafe to do the job, the EEOC explained in a recent settlement announcement.
The case involved a Pennsylvania home healthcare company that fired a pregnant employee with hypertension after allegedly telling her she was a “liability to the company,” even though she had been medically cleared to work without restrictions, according to the EEOC. In April, the company agreed to pay $20,000 to resolve the charges, the EEOC said.
Certain actions raise red flags. In April 2022, a Long Island-based storage company agreed to pay $85,000 to settle EEOC charges that it fired an employee because she was pregnant. The company allegedly terminated her less than a week after she disclosed her pregnancy to HR and subsequently replaced her with a non-pregnant employee, according to the complaint.
Effective June 27, employees will have to comply with a new federal pregnancy accommodation law, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.
Under the PWFA, reasonable accommodation must be provided to a worker’s known limitation related to pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition, unless the accommodation will cause the employer an “undue hardship,” an EEOC tip sheet states.
These reasonable accommodations can include offering additional, longer or more flexible breaks to eat, drink, rest or use the restroom; shortening work schedules or offering part-time work or a later starting time; and changing food and drink policies to allow a worker to have a water bottle or food, the tip sheet suggests.
The PWFA bridges the gap between Title VII, which accommodates a pregnant worker only if a similarly situated non-pregnant worker receives similar treatment, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires reasonable accommodation only if a pregnancy-related condition amounts to a disability, EEOC Vice Chair Jocelyn Samuels said during a Society for Human Resource Management conference in March.
Many state and local laws provide additional protection for pregnant workers or new parents, as do two other federal laws enforced by DOL: The Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides covered employees with unpaid job-protected leave for the birth of a child or to care for a newborn within one year of birth; and the PUMP Act (Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act), which broadens protections for employers to express breast milk at work, according to DOL.