5 Signs You Should Contact a Lawyer about Pregnancy Discrimination in California
Pregnancy discrimination is among the most pervasive and least discussed forms of employment discrimination in the U.S.
Even though discrimination against pregnant workers is banned under federal law, some states, like California, offer women who are expecting even further workplace protections.
Unfortunately, it’s sometimes no accident that many women are still unaware of the rights and protections they’re afforded as both workers and mothers.
Four California women formerly employed by Amazon recently filed a lawsuit against the e-commerce giant for pregnancy discrimination.
These women not only allege that Amazon broke the law by denying them the pregnancy accommodations and disability leave required by California law, but that they were never informed by their employer about their rights to these legal protections in the first place.
This blog post will outline some of the most common forms of discrimination that pregnant women face in the workplace.
We will also explain the kinds of protections that California law offers pregnant workers, and describe how an employment lawyer can help you if you’ve experienced pregnancy discrimination at work.
If you have questions, please contact our employment attorneys online or call (866) 442-6755.
What Does Pregnancy Discrimination Look Like In California?
Illegal pregnancy discrimination can take many forms — some of which can happen even after you’ve given birth.
These cases — filed by real women living and working in California — illustrate some of the most common ways that employers commit pregnancy discrimination in the Golden State:
- Demoting you or cutting your hours because of your pregnancy. Ms. Sattar had been recently promoted to a new role at an Amazon fulfillment center when she submitted a request for maternity leave due to her pregnancy. Not only was her request rejected, her manager threatened that she would be demoted if she insisted on taking leave anyway. Four days later, she was informed that she’d been reduced from full-time status to a part-time employee — causing her to lose her health insurance coverage just before her baby was due.
- Pressuring you to quit your job because you’re pregnant. Officer Daryn Glenn made history when she became the first Black woman to join the K-9 unit with the Redondo Beach Police Department in 2021. But when she wanted to continue to work on patrol during the early days of her pregnancy, her supervisors resisted. Department officials and colleagues pushed her to leave the specialized unit. They said they didn’t have maternity uniforms that would fit her and that it would simply be “too hard” to work as a canine unit while caring for a newborn.
- Pushing you to unpaid leave without the option of working temporary “light duties” during pregnancy. Ronneisa was a commercial truck driver for Swift Transportation Company when she learned she was pregnant. On her doctor’s recommendation, she requested temporary reassignment to “light duty,” where she could work without lifting or pulling heavy objects. Swift denied her request for temporary work accommodation and instead mandated that Ronneisa go on leave, where she was expected to support herself and two children using only her vacation pay until at least six weeks after her due date.
- Refusing to grant you pregnancy-related health accommodations, bathroom breaks, or lactation. Nikki, a driver for Oakland’s AC Transit, was concerned about the health effects of operating a bus with an exhaust pipe so close to her seat. But after complaining of vomiting, weakness, and headaches — all symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning — her supervisors refused to take action. Her requests to drive a newer bus or work a desk job for the remainder of her pregnancy were denied on the grounds that AC Transit did not make accommodations for pregnant workers. Kaiaunna was breastfeeding her third child when she earned a coveted position as a longshore worker at the Pacific Maritime Association’s LA port. When she asked about a private place to expel breast milk, she was told to use the employee restroom. Uncomfortable with the lack of privacy and cleanliness there, she resorted to pumping in her car. Eventually, dealing with the inconvenience of pumping at work and her supervisor’s disapproval was too much to juggle, and she was forced to stop breastfeeding her son earlier than she’d planned in order to avoid conflict at work.
- Firing you for reasons related to your pregnancy. During her pregnancy, Beverly struggled to keep up with the performance expectations of her supervisors at Amazon’s San Bernardino Amazon Fulfillment Center. Her job scanning and packing items to be shipped was fast-paced and physically demanding. Shifts were normally around 10 hours long, with only 30 minutes allotted for bathroom breaks each day. Managers were constantly pushing workers to meet and exceed productivity goals, and often reprimanded them for taking too many breaks to use the bathroom. When she brought a note from her doctor to request additional bathroom breaks and other accommodations for her condition, management ignored it. Her managers continued to give her a hard time for excessive breaks, but still refused additional requests to be temporarily moved to a different department closer to the bathrooms. Not long after, Amazon told Beverly she was being fired for taking too much time off — but the company made no mention of her pregnancy or the requests she’d made because of it.
What Rights Do Pregnant Workers Have In California?
Discrimination against workers because they are or may become pregnant has been illegal in the United States since 1978.
But even though the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act applies to workers across the nation, women in California enjoy further protections from state laws.
First, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits companies (with at least five employees) from discriminating against workers or job applicants based on their pregnancy status.
FEHA doesn’t just protect women who are currently pregnant. It also bans discrimination based on any pregnancy- or fertility-related health issues, including use of birth control, infertility treatment, breastfeeding or pumping, childbirth, or loss of pregnancy.
This means that your boss can’t fire, demote, or otherwise punish you because of your pregnancy status.
FEHA also requires companies to provide reasonable accommodations to assist pregnant workers in performing their regular employment duties.
Here are some common workplace accommodations granted to pregnant workers:
- Alteration of work duties to make them less strenuous.
- Access to a stool or chair while at work.
- Temporary reassignment to a less strenuous or hazardous job.
- Permission for longer, more frequent breaks (for the restroom, water, rest, or medications).
- Assistance with physically demanding tasks.
- Schedule modifications (e.g. flexible hours, remote work options).
- Private lactation accommodations.
- Leave of absence for pregnancy-related medical conditions.
If you’ve worked for your employer for at least a year, they must allow you to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave to bond with your child.
But in many cases, women in California are also eligible for additional job-protected leave, or Pregnancy Disability Leave.
With a doctor’s certification, you can receive up to four months of employer disability leave if you experience gestational diabetes, pregnancy-related hypertension, preeclampsia, severe morning sickness, depression, or issues surrounding the loss or end of a pregnancy.
When you return from leave, you’re entitled to return to the same (or reasonably comparable) position to the one you performed previously.
Also, under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), additional leave time can also be available for employees who experience additional medical complications related to pregnancy or the birth of a child.
In all of these situations, your employer is allowed to request verification of your medical conditions from a doctor — but they’re never legally allowed to ask you to disclose your specific medical records.
Be aware: if your employer takes any adverse action against you for exercising your rights to pregnancy leave or accommodations under California law, that’s considered retaliation, and it’s also forbidden under state and federal law.
What Should I Do If My Company Is Discriminating Against Me Based On My Pregnancy Status?
Confronting your employer about pregnancy discrimination can be intimidating. Many women are hesitant to do so, whether because they’re unsure of their rights or out of a fear of employer backlash.
For that reason, it’s a good idea to consult with an employment lawyer. An employment attorney who specializes in California labor law can evaluate your situation and explain how state and federal anti-discrimination protections apply to your circumstances.
If you decide to bring a lawsuit against your employer, they can also help you prepare your case and advocate for you in court.
Ottinger Employment Lawyers has been helping women get justice for pregnancy discrimination for over 20 years.
If you work in California and are concerned that your rights are being violated for reasons related to your pregnancy, don’t wait.