Are you a woman who has been discriminated against because you are pregnant? As made clear by the Forbes article, “Yes, Pregnancy Discrimination at Work Is Still a Huge Problem,” you’re not alone. But is there something you can do about it, such as filing a claim or lawsuit? The answer is yes, but you must go about it the correct way; otherwise, you may lose certain rights.
Depending on the facts of your case, you may be protected from pregnancy discrimination under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), the Human Rights Act of 1977 (HRA), or both.
The PDA amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and, in essence, made it illegal under federal law for an employer (consisting of 15 or more employees) to discriminate against an employee on the basis of the employee’s pregnancy. Additional historical background of the PDA can be found in Nolo.com’s article “The Pregnancy Discrimination Act.”
The HRA codifies into D.C. law that an employer’s discrimination against an employee on the basis of pregnancy, no matter how many employees the employer has, is illegal. An employee who is the victim of employee discrimination may proceed under both laws, but depending on the facts of the case, should follow the process outlined below.
Filing the Claim
Employment law is similar to many other types of law in that in order to bring a claim, it must be brought within a certain period of time and through a certain process.
In the case of pregnancy discrimination in Washington D.C., the basic rule is that you should file your claim with the Washington D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR) within 300 days of the “adverse employment action.” This is usually the day you are fired, demoted, or were otherwise discriminated against. However, if you are a federal employee who has suffered from pregnancy discrimination, you have only 45 days to report the discrimination to your agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity Officer.
The reasons behind these filing requirements are a little complicated, but it may be useful to provide some background.
Under the PDA, a case for pregnancy discrimination exists only if the employer doing the discriminating has at least 15 or more employees. Additionally, federal law requires that a “charge” be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the “adverse employment action.” This 180-day limit is extended to 300 days if there is a state or local agency that prohibits pregnancy discrimination.
In this case, there is a local agency that prohibits pregnancy discrimination: the OHR. While the HRA allows you to bring pregnancy discrimination claims within one year of the date you believe you were discriminated against, it is safer to rely on a shorter deadline. It also protects your cause of action under federal law because you’ll meet both the PDA and HRA filing deadlines.
As to why the claim should be filed with the OHR and not the EEOC, recall that under the HRA, pregnancy discrimination is prohibited, no matter how many employees the employer has. By filing the claim with the OHR, you do not need to worry about whether your employer has 15 or more employees (which can be an investigation in and of itself). Also, when you file a claim with the OHR, the agency will “cross file” your claim with the EEOC at your request. By filing with the OHR, you can effectively file with the EEOC and protect your ability to recover under the HRA and PDA.
Filing a Lawsuit
By now, you might be thinking, “What about suing my employer in court? Why can’t I just do that?”
Depending on which law you are seeking relief from and in which court you intend to bring suit, you could bypass filing a claim with the OHR and sue in D.C. Superior Court first. While this may be the best course of action for you depending on the facts of your case, one thing to consider is that to file a federal lawsuit for recovery under the PDA, you must have first filed a claim with the EEOC. This requirement does not exist under the HRA or D.C. law. Therefore, if you intend to seek relief in court under the PDA, you will need to file a claim with the EEOC anyway.
Every situation is different, and the law and facts can complicate the decision of how to proceed. As a result, you should seek the advice of an experienced attorney well-versed in employment discrimination issues.
If you want to learn more about your options, download your free copy of the Employment Law Guide.