Did your Florida employer fire you because you're pregnant? If so, you may have a wrongful termination case against your former employer. This article explains your rights as a pregnant employee and what to do if you believe you were wrongfully terminated because of your pregnancy.
Federal and Florida laws protect pregnant employees from discrimination. They also require employers to give time off and reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees in certain circumstances.
The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating based on pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. For example, employers may not fire or discipline an employee for getting pregnant, refuse to hire an applicant because she is pregnant, or single out a pregnant employee with work restrictions for worse treatment than other employees with temporary disabilities.
The PDA also prohibits employers from relying on stereotypes about pregnant women and new mothers in making job decisions. For example, an employer may not assume that a pregnant employee won’t be able to do her job while pregnant or that she won't come back to work after giving having a baby.
The Florida Civil Rights Act was recently amended to prohibit discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. Like the PDA, the Florida law applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
Under the PDA and Florida law, employers must provide pregnant employees with the same accommodations provided to employees who are temporarily disabled by other health conditions. If, for instance, an employer regularly accommodates employees who are recovering from surgery and broken bones, it may have to do the same for a pregnant employee with lifting restrictions. It would be discriminatory for a company to provide light duty to all employees with work restrictions except pregnant employees. (Learn more on the rules for light duty during pregnancy.)
However, the PDA does not require employers to treat pregnant employees more favorably than other employees. For example, if your employer doesn't offer light duty or job modifications to anyone, it does not have to accommodate pregnant employees either.
The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee suffering from a pregnancy-related disability. Normal pregnancies, and the usual physical changes and limitations that come with them, are not considered disabilities under the ADA. However, if you are suffering from a disabling pregnancy-related condition, such as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, you may have a disability under the ADA. (For more on the ADA, see our Disability Discrimination page.)
You may also be entitled to take time off work for certain medical reasons relating to pregnancy and childbirth. If your employer has at least 50 employees, it must comply with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA gives eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off work for medical needs and caretaking responsibilities, including:
Employees must meet certain eligibility requirements to take FMLA leave, including having worked for their employers for at least one year. (For more information, see Taking Family and Medical Leave.)
Under the FMLA, you also have the right to continue your health insurance benefits while you’re off work and to be reinstated to your former position when your leave is over.
Many states have their own family and medical leave laws or pregnancy disability laws that provide additional time off. However, Florida is not one of them.
You may have a claim against your employer for wrongful termination if you were fired because of your pregnancy, because you couldn't perform your job duties and were denied an accommodation, or because you requested or used leave under the FMLA.
If you believe your employer violated federal or state discrimination laws, such as the PDA, ADA, or Florida Civil Rights Act, you’ll need to file a charge of discrimination with a government agency. You may file either with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency that interprets and enforces federal workplace discrimination laws, or the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR). (The two agencies have a work-sharing agreement, meaning that a complaint filed with either is considered filed with both.) Depending on your claims, you have either 300 days or one year to file your charge.
You may not file a lawsuit until you have taken your claims to the EEOC or the FCHR. Either agency may investigate your claims, try to settle the case with your employer, or propose mediation. (See Filing an EEOC Charge of Discrimination to learn more.)
If you want to file a lawsuit right away, you can ask the EEOC or the FCHR to issue you a right-to-sue letter: a document that confirms that you have met your obligation to file a charge with the agency. However, you should be ready to act quickly. Once the EEOC issues the letter, you have only 90 days to file a lawsuit based on your federal claims. To file a lawsuit under state law, you must file within one year of the FCHR issuing a “probable cause” finding, or within four years of the actions you allege were discriminatory. Either way, it's best not to wait. You'll want to file your lawsuit as soon as possible, before memories fade, evidence is destroyed, and managers and coworkers move on to new jobs.
For violations of the FMLA, you can go straight to court without filing anything with a government agency.
If you win your lawsuit, you can ask the court to order your employer to give you your job back. However, this remedy, called reinstatement, isn’t very common. Often, there’s just too much hostility between the former employee and employer to make this work. Also, reinstatement might require displacing the person the employer hired to replace the employee, which courts generally don’t like to do.
It's more common to ask for money damages to compensate you for the harm done by your employer’s actions. Depending on the facts of your case, these damages might include:
While there's limit on lost wages under federal law, there is a cap on how much you can be awarded for pain and suffering, out-of-pocket losses (such as the costs of looking for a new job), and punitive damages. Depending on the size of your employer, the maximum combined award for these types of damages ranges from $50,000 to $300,000.
Under the Florida Civil Rights Act, damages for emotional distress are not capped. In other words, you may be awarded any amount the judge or jury feels is appropriate, based on the evidence. However, punitive damages are capped at $100,000.
If you are considering filing an EEOC or FCHR charge or a lawsuit against your employer, you should talk to an experienced employment lawyer. A lawyer can help you determine whether you have a strong case, what your claims might be worth, and how best to assert your rights.
You may be concerned about the cost of hiring a lawyer, especially if you're still out of work. In discrimination cases, however, lawyers generally charge on a contingency basis. This means the lawyer collects fees only if you win your case (by taking a percentage of your recovery). And, if you win your case, you can ask the court to give you an award to cover some or all of your attorneys' fees and costs.
Learn more about hiring a lawyer in a discrimination case, including how lawyers charge and how they decide whether to take a case, at our Asserting your Rights Against Discrimination page. To find a local employment lawyer, check out Nolo’s Lawyer Directory.