Pregnancy Discrimination

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) amended Title VII to prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Pregnancy discrimination constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII and is also unlawful under the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”). As a result, women affected by pregnancy or related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.

Hiring and Other Aspects of Employment

Under both laws, an employer cannot refuse to hire an applicant or employee based on her pregnant status provided that she is able to perform the essential functions of her job. Nor can an employer refuse to hire an applicant or employee due to its own prejudices against pregnant employees or the prejudices or co-workers, vendors or customers. Discrimination based on pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition is illegal when it comes to any aspect of employment.

Maternity Leave

Pregnant employees must be permitted to work as long as they are able to perform their jobs. If an employee has been absent from work as a result of a pregnancy related condition and recovers, her employer may not require her to remain on leave until the baby's birth. Nor may an employer have a rule that prohibits an employee from returning to work for a predetermined length of time after childbirth

It is also imperative under the PDA that a pregnant employee receive the same leave rights as other disabled employees. As such, an employer that allows temporarily disabled employees to take disability leave or leave without pay, must allow an employee who is temporarily disabled due to pregnancy to do the same under the PDA.

Furthermore, an employer may not single out pregnancy-related conditions for special procedures to determine an employee's ability to work. Although if an employer requires its employees to submit a doctor's statement concerning their ability to work before granting leave or paying sick benefits, the employer may require employees affected by pregnancy-related conditions to submit such statements as well.

Lastly, a new parent may also have additional rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993. Under the FMLA, an eligible employee that is a new parent (including foster and adoptive parents) may be eligible for 12 weeks of leave (unpaid or paid if the employee has earned or accrued it) that may be used for care of the new child.

Temporary Disability Due to a Pregnancy- or Childbirth-Related Medical Condition

Likewise, if a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a pregnancy-related or childbirth-related medical condition, the employer or other covered entity must treat her in the same way as it treats any other temporarily disabled employee. For example, the employer may have to provide light duty, alternative assignments, disability leave, or unpaid leave to pregnant employees if it does so for other temporarily disabled employees.

Additionally, impairments resulting from pregnancy (e.g. gestational diabetes) may be disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). An employer may have to provide a reasonable accommodation for a disability related to pregnancy unless it presents an undue hardship for the employer.

Damages and Coverage for Pregnancy Discrimination Under Federal and Illinois Law

Title VII applies to employers (including employment agencies and unions) with 15 or more employees, and to federal, state, and local governments. Employees who are victims of pregnancy discrimination under Title VII may be entitled to recover compensatory and punitive damages as well as back pay, reinstatement or front pay, and attorneys’ fees and costs. Importantly, Title VII places caps on the sum of compensatory and punitive damages for which an employer may be liable. The caps are based on the size of the employer’s workforce:

Employer Size

Compensatory Damages

Punitive Damages

15 - 100 employees

$50,000

$50,000

101 - 200 employees

$100,000

$100,000

201 - 500 employees

$200,000

$200,000

501 or more employees

$300,000

$300,000

Unlike Title VII, the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”) does not place caps on the amount of damages that are recoverable under the Act. The IHRA applies to employers with 15 or more employees in the state of Illinois, public contractors, and state governmental units.

Contact our Chicago Pregnancy Discrimination Lawyers

If you believe that you have been the victim of pregnancy discrimination at work, you must timely file a Charge of Discrimination before filing a civil lawsuit. We encourage you to contact our Chicago workplace discrimination attorneys to set up a free consultation in time to learn about your rights and options under the law.