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EEOC faces large challenge in combating pregnancy discrimination

We have previously written about the ways in which the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is working to decrease instances of discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Recently, the EEOC has devoted considerable time and resources to the rising rates of pregnancy discrimination occurring within the American workforce.

In 2011 alone, just shy of 5,800 pregnancy discrimination complaints were filed with the EEOC on behalf of American women. This number represents an astonishing 23 percent increase from the number of complaints filed just six years prior.

Pregnancy discrimination has been illegal since it was outlawed in an employment context 34 years ago. Specifically, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 protects women who work at or are applying to work at places of business with 15 or more workers. This protection extends to conditions related to pregnancy and certain post-partum circumstances.

However, women all over America are experiencing pregnancy discrimination at unacceptable and astonishing rates. Evidence suggests that women who work in low-paying jobs are at particular risk of such treatment.

The EEOC recently held a hearing to address the prevalence of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. During the hearing, a senior staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society insisted that women in low-paying jobs face, "an increasingly common pattern of discrimination."

This pattern is characterized by wrongful termination following employer notification about a pregnancy, or otherwise forced unpaid leave.

The EEOC's general counsel David Lopez also noted during the hearing that this pattern is fueled by unfounded bias. Lopez explained that, "At the core, all of these cases involve employers who held stereotypical assumptions about pregnant women."

The EEOC is working to combat this bias and resulting discrimination. However, the prevalence of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace suggests that these regulators have a significant challenge ahead of them.

Source: Washington Post, "Workplace pregnancy discrimination cases on the rise," Vickie Elmer, Apr. 8, 2012

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