On Thursday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that it filed a lawsuit against Magnolia Personal Care Home, a Mississippi nursing home, for firing an employee on her first day hours after she disclosed her pregnancy.
Without naming the employee, the EEOC said that she was hired as a kitchen assistant. She told her supervisor about her pregnancy on her first day of work, but was fired three hours later. The company later replaced her with someone who wasn’t pregnant.
The EEOC’s suit says that these actions violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, race, religion, color, or national origin. It’s seeking to have the employee reinstated and paid back pay and damages. Magnolia couldn’t be reached for comment.
The lawsuit comes after the agency issued the first comprehensive update to guidance for employers since 1983 in July warning them that current law makes it illegal to fire, turn down for employment, or otherwise discriminate against pregnant workers just because they’re pregnant. What happened to the women in the current lawsuit is what the EEOC says is the most familiar kind of discrimination: relying on stereotypes about pregnant women, such as the idea that they will take time off, can’t perform their duties, or will decide to leave the job early, to fire them or hold them back. These unfair stereotypes are rampant and frequently used to vilify pregnant women, as an analysis of discrimination cases over two decades found. Yet more than 80 percent of women who work during their pregnancies stay through their last month.
Another kind of discrimination is also rampant, however: denying women small changes to their work conditions so that they can stay on the job and still have a healthy pregnancy, from a stool to sit on or a bottle of water to drink to changing tasks so that they don’t have to lift heavy objects. A number of women have told stories of being fired instead of given an accommodation, forced onto unpaid leave, or even being made to work in conditions that led to miscarriages. An estimated quarter million women are denied their requests each year and many more don’t even ask because they’re afraid of the consequences.
The EEOC contends that current laws make all of these actions illegal. Specifically, an amendment to Title VII through the Pregnancy Discrimination Act that clarified that discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions is sex discrimination as well as protections for disabled workers through the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit these kinds of discrimination. But they are clearly widespread. One solution is to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, introduced many times in Congress and actually passed by a handful of states, which requires employers to give pregnant workers reasonable accommodations.