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Is it pregnancy discrimination if it's written into a contract?


When a woman becomes pregnant, various federal and state laws protect her from being unjustly treated in the workplace. However, the definition of what pregnancy discrimination is legally is fairly nuanced. Though the law extends relatively broad protections to all women, there are many circumstances in which women's work status can be affected by their pregnancies in ways that do not break the law.

Take, for example, Jessica Simpson. Ms. Simpson is currently a spokesperson for Weight Watchers. Since she gave birth to her daughter Maxwell in May, she has lost approximately 60 pounds. She is now in good enough shape to shoot some of the commercials outlined in her multimillion-dollar contract. In fact, she shot the first of these commercials only a few weeks ago.

Ms. Simpson's contract with Weight Watchers requires her to be in a certain physical shape and at a certain physical weight. Though most employees are not subject to such contractual provisions, the mission of the company that hired her is weight loss. It is generally acceptable for a company to expect out-of-the-ordinary contributions from its employees, as long as these expectations are directly tied to its mission statement.

However, Ms. Simpson is already pregnant again. Could this possibly give Weight Watchers grounds to terminate her? Would the company be justified in doing so due to the fact that it is a company that promotes weight loss and Simpson will undoubtedly be gaining weight very soon? Or would it be considered discrimination?

The short answer is that the company likely has a clause in Simpson's contract that would provide for her to come back again as a spokesperson once she has lost her baby weight. Although Weight Watchers is absolutely justified in suspending her spokesperson-ship for now, it is still generally unacceptable to fire a woman forever for becoming pregnant.

Source: E! News, "How a New Pregnancy Could Impact Jessica Simpson's Weight Watchers Gig," Ashlan Gorse and Peter Gicas, Nov. 29, 2012

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