If you are a working parent-to-be, you should feel safe at home and at work, and your pregnancy should not affect your rights as an employee. Fortunately, you can depend on state and federal anti-discrimination laws to protect you.
Unlawful discrimination for pregnancy occurs when an employer treats an employee unfairly because they are pregnant or have recently given birth. Illegal discrimination can include refusing to hire someone because they are pregnant, firing someone because they are pregnant, giving unequal terms or conditions of employment to a pregnant employee, or not providing reasonable accommodations or leave to a pregnant employee. If an employer or potential employer refuses to respect your rights because you are pregnant, you are entitled to legal relief and should consult an experienced New Jersey pregnancy discrimination lawyer. At O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, our award-winning attorneys have a proven track record of holding discriminatory employers accountable for their misconduct.
Legal Protections Against Pregnancy Discrimination
In New Jersey, pregnancy discrimination is illegal under both state and federal law. State and federal anti-discrimination laws safeguard pregnant employees in different ways. By seeking a combination of federal and state protections, a New Jersey pregnancy discrimination attorney can help ensure that you are able to seek multiple benefits, including:
- The pregnancy-related medical care you need,
- The time you deserve to bond with your newborn,
- Equal treatment at work,
- The reasonable accommodations necessary to help you do your job, and
- Damages to compensate you for an employer’s discriminatory behavior.
Let’s take a look at how the law can shield you from unfair treatment at work.
Federal Law: The Civil Rights Act of 1964
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) outlaws workplace discrimination based on sex and gender. This type of illegal discrimination includes mistreatment based on the following:
- An employee’s current pregnancy,
- An employee’s past pregnancy,
- An employee’s potential pregnancy,
- An employee’s medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, and
- An employee’s breastfeeding or lactation needs.
If an employer refuses to hire, promote, properly pay, or retain you because of your status as a pregnant or recently pregnant individual, you have a right to take legal action.
Federal Law: The Americans with Disabilities Act
Some conditions associated with pregnancy can be mildly or seriously debilitating. If you develop a pregnancy-related condition but you can still perform the essential functions of your work, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires your employer to give you reasonable accommodations to help you complete your work. These accommodations could include a reduction in the physical demands of your work, longer breaks, shorter shifts, and assistive devices to make you more comfortable.
Federal Law: The Family and Medical Leave Act
Sometimes a work accommodation is not enough to address the needs of an expecting employee. Some pregnant employees need time off from work to tend to a pregnancy-related condition, give birth, or bond with a new child (including an adopted or foster child). To handle the demands of pregnancy and new parenthood, you can seek job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Under the FMLA, pregnant employees and employees who have recently given birth are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to address pregnancy-related needs. If you take FMLA leave, your employer generally must protect your job and benefits and reinstate you to the same (or a similar) position when you return.
State Law: The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) is the main New Jersey law against discrimination because of pregnancy. LAD prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
Under LAD, it is illegal for an employer to:
- Refuse to hire an individual because they are pregnant,
- Fire an employee because of their pregnancy,
- Demote an employee because they are pregnant,
- Deny an employee a promotion because of their pregnancy, or
- Treat an employee or job candidate unfairly because they are pregnant.
In addition to prohibiting pregnancy-based discrimination, LAD requires employers to reasonably accommodate pregnant employees. Reasonable accommodations may include things like allowing an employee to take breaks for water, snacks, or lactation purposes; providing a chair or stool for an employee to sit on; or allowing an employee to work from home if necessary.
Filing a Pregnancy Discrimination Claim
In general, you have 180 days to file a pregnancy discrimination claim under state or federal law. A victim of discrimination may be entitled to non-monetary relief and financial damages, including back pay, front pay, compensation for emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorney fees. The kind of legal action you can take against discrimination depends on the type of discrimination you suffer and the agency you choose to enforce your rights.
To assert your rights under Title VII or the ADA, you can file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Only employers with 15 or more employees are subject to Title VII and the ADA.
Employers that have at least 50 employees within 75 miles must comply with FMLA leave rules. And an employee who has worked for their employer for 12 months or more and has worked 1,250 hours in the past 12 months can file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor if they are denied FMLA leave.
In addition to filing a discrimination complaint with a federal agency, you can sue your employer in court. However, you will likely need to file an agency complaint first to establish your right to sue.
LAD applies to all employers in the state, regardless of size. If your employer engages in pregnancy discrimination that violates LAD, you can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights or a lawsuit in the Superior Court of New Jersey.
It is important for pregnant employees in New Jersey to be aware of their rights under state and federal law. If you believe you have been the victim of pregnancy discrimination, you should speak with an experienced employment discrimination attorney who can help you understand your rights and options.
Speak to One of Our Experienced Discrimination Attorneys
Employees who have suffered unlawful discrimination at work deserve the protection of a good advocate. At O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, our award-winning attorneys serve our clients with skill and compassion and are aggressive with discriminatory employers. We have recovered millions on behalf of our clients, and it is our honor to use our knowledge and experience to champion the rights of New Jersey employees. If you need help, please contact us online or call us to schedule a consultation.