September 04, 2014 Articles

Birth of a Generation of Protections for Pregnant Employees

By Aisha Broderick

When Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was introduced in 1964, its protection for women in the workplace was limited to gender discrimination. While the law's purpose was to ensure equal treatment, it did not completely shield women from discrimination. A certain subgroup of women—working mothers—remained unprotected from discrimination and vulnerable to an employer's judgment about whether women should be able to take time off to deal with pregnancy-related issues or care for children once they were born.

Title VII's protections were insufficient because the law aimed only to treat a woman as equal to a man. To challenge a Title VII discrimination allegation, an employer only had to demonstrate that it treated all employees the same. The act did not require an employer to treat a pregnant employee more favorably than a nonpregnant employee. For example, in Armindo v. Padlocker, Inc., 209 F.3d 1319, 1321 (11th Cir. 2000), the court held that an employer did not need to afford special treatment to a pregnant woman who had difficulty reporting to work. The court explained that "an employer who fires [a pregnant] employee for excessive absences, even if those absences were the result of the pregnancy," does not commit unlawful discrimination "unless the employer overlooks the comparable absences of non-pregnant employees." Armindo, 209 F.3d at 1320, 1322.

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