Firing a Pregnant Woman: What is Legal

September 23, 2016


“I’m pregnant,” can be the happiest phrase a person hears in their life (or the most terrifying). If a couple has been trying to become pregnant for years and their prayers have finally been answered, the news may be exciting. If an employer is trying to manage a business and his or her employee says, “I’m pregnant,” the news may be discomforting.

In 1997, U.S Bank fired Jessica Maldonado the day after she announced to her supervisor (Amalia Gonzalez) that she was pregnant. Maldonado had been working for the bank for roughly two weeks when she told Gonzalez the news. The following day Gonzalez told Maldonado that she was being let go “because of [her] condition.” Maldonado sued, and the case was argued and decided in 1999.

Firing Maldonado because of her pregnancy is a clear violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, (an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964). The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) describes pregnancy, childbirth, or a related condition as sex discrimination. If an employee cannot perform work-related duties because of a pregnancy related issue, her job can be terminated, but, under the PDA, a person cannot be fired for the sole distinction of pregnancy.

According to Geier v. Medtronic, Inc. and Marshall v. American Hosp. Ass’n, a plaintiff “must show that she was treated differently because of her pregnancy.” U.S Bank admitted to firing Maldonado as a result of learning of her pregnant condition, so she had grounds to sue for discrimination.

However, U.S Bank argued that they were not firing Maldonado over her pregnancy but rather her inability to work during the summer months, a crucial time affecting the bank’s economic advantage. Unfortunately for U.S Bank, it could not be proven that Maldonado’s absence would have negative effect on the bank.

Though it is deemed unfair that Maldonado was fired, she is fortunate that she simply communicated her pregnancy without any stipulations. In a separate case, Tari Marshall v. American Hospital Association, Marshall claimed that she was wrongfully fired for being pregnant. However, the court found no overwhelming evidence of discrimination. Instead, they determined that Marshall had “explicitly requested special treatment” for her pregnant condition.

Had Jessica Maldonado requested any special treatment, she would have not been able to prove that she had been discriminated against. However, because she was able to prove that she was discriminated against for being pregnant when she was fired, the court ruled in her favor.

If you or someone you know feels at risk of being fired for being pregnant pay close attention to the details of the pregnancy. If the pregnancy inhibits accomplishing work-related tasks, an employee may be fired. If an employee requests special privileges, termination may occur as well. Those are legal actions. In contrast, if an employee simply does what Maldonado did, communicates a pregnancy, and she is thereupon fired, she has, according to the PDA, been discriminated against.

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