No, You Can’t Demote a Pregnant Employee If You Think Her Job’s Too Tough

You definitely can’t fire a pregnant employee for complaining about pregnancy discrimination.
You definitely can’t fire a pregnant employee for complaining about pregnancy discrimination.

Suzie comes into your office and tells you she is four months pregnant. You think, “Hmmmm, her job is really demanding. I should probably put her in a job with less responsibility because I’m sure Suzie can’t do such a demanding job while pregnant.”

Wrong answer: Demoting Suzie based on a stereotype about her ability to work while pregnant is against the law, as one employer recently found out.

A Texas business that offers summer camping retreats recently agreed to pay $70,000 to settle a pregnancy and disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC alleged that the company demoted a summer registrar after learning the employee was pregnant and had developed gestational diabetes. The employee never requested a job reassignment, nor did she indicate she was unable to perform her job duties. Nevertheless, the company’s executive director demoted the pregnant employee, claiming that the registrar job was too demanding for her because of her pregnancy and pregnancy-related medical condition.

Yet, it didn’t end there. The pregnant employee was fired after she told the executive director that she believed her demotion was illegal.

This alleged conduct violates the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy and retaliation for complaining about the discrimination. In addition, the EEOC asserted that the alleged conduct violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits disability discrimination. Although pregnancy itself is not considered a disability under the ADA, impairments resulting from pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes, may be covered.

“The day is over when an employer could force a pregnant woman out of her job because of stereotypical, unsupported beliefs about her abilities,” said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Connie Gatlin, the attorney in charge of litigating the case, in a statement. “A company cannot take it upon itself to remove an employee from her job because it suspects her pregnancy or a pregnancy-related medical condition may interfere with the performance of her duties.”

California also protects pregnant employees from discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Under the FEHA, you can’t require an employee to transfer to another position over the employee’s objections just because you believe the pregnancy will affect the employee’s ability to do the job.

Gail Cecchettini Whaley, CalChamber Employment Law Counsel/Content

CalChamber members can read more about Providing Reasonable Accommodation and Transfers for pregnant employees. Not a member? Learn more about what HRCalifornia can do for you.

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