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Horton Law Firm Blog Pregnancy Discrimination for South Carolina Employees

 | Pregnancy Discrimination for South Carolina Employees

Many pregnant employees in South Carolina will face sort some of pregnancy discrimination during their careers. I regularly get calls from employees throughout the state who are high performing individuals who get pregnant, inform their employer, and then suddenly face disciplinary action, harassment, termination, or a refusal to accommodate any pregnancy-related symptoms. (I’ve written previously about a federal law that requires companies to provide breast pumping options and break times for new mothers.) So what are the legal options for newly pregnant employees?

What Legal Protections Exist Against Pregnancy Discrimination?

Existing laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) and the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) already provide protections to employees against discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. Title VII’s protections against sex discrimination include protections against pregnancy discrimination as well, while the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability. Now, pregnancy is not itself a disability under the ADA, but certain pregnancy-related symptoms (such as gestational diabetes, for instance) can qualify as an ADA disability, for which a company has an obligation to try and accommodate if needed.

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a company has a legal obligation under the ADA to provide a reasonable accommodation to a pregnant employee if the company also provides a similar accommodation to an employee with a non-pregnancy disability (unpaid time off, for example, or light duties, perhaps).

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, qualified employees (meaning those who have worked full time for one year and for an employer with at least 50 employees) are also entitled to medical leave for serious medical conditions, including pregnancy complications and delivery. (For further reading, here’s a blog post about the FMLA for SC employees in general, along with another post discussing intermittent and continuous medical leave under the FMLA.)

New Federal Law For Pregnancy Discrimination

However, in June 2023, a new law went into effect called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) that deals specifically with accommodations in the workplace related to pregnancy. For covered employers (meaning the company has at least 15 employees), the company must provide a reasonable accommodation to a pregnant employee for the employee’s known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, UNLESS the accommodation will cause an undue hardship.

This new law essentially places a pregnancy accommodation request on the same level as a traditional ADA accommodation request, subject to the same obligations of the employer to engage in the “interactive process” (a good faith conversation) in an effort to find a reasonable accommodation that allows the employee to still perform the essential functions of the position.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is the federal agency that investigates and enforces the federal antidiscrimination laws in the workplace, issued its new PWFA regulations in April 2024 that help interpret and implement the new law. The EEOC has been accepting PWFA-based Charges of Discrimination since late June 2023. Keep in mind that there is a 300 day statute of limitations deadline to file a Charge.

Takeaways for South Carolina Workers

For South Carolina employees who are pregnant, there are several federal laws that provide protection against pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. The PWFA will help employees to seek and receive the reasonable accommodations that they need to continue working while they are pregnant. However, if you are facing pregnancy discrimination, then you need to speak with a South Carolina employment lawyer about the facts of your case.

For employees who are terminated after revealing they are pregnant or after seeking a reasonable accommodation under the ADA or PWFA, they may have discrimination and retaliation claims against the company. The law provides for damages to the employee, including lost back pay, future lost wages, emotional distress damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees. Call our office today to see what your legal options are.


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