If your Georgia employer fired you because you are pregnant, you may have a wrongful termination case. This article covers your rights as a pregnant employee and explains what to do if you believe you were wrongfully terminated because of your pregnancy.
Federal and state laws protect pregnant employees from discrimination. They may also require employers to provide pregnant employees with time off work and reasonable accommodations to allow them to do their jobs.
Under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), employers with 15 or more employees may not discriminate based on pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. For example, employers may not fire or discipline an employee because she becomes pregnant, refuse to hire a pregnant applicant, or single out a pregnant employee for worse treatment than other employees who are temporarily disabled.
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 can't do certain job tasks while pregnant or that she won't want to return to work after giving birth.
Although most states also have their own laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination, Georgia does not. However, Georgia employers must still comply with the requirements of the PDA.
When it comes to light duty and other job modifications, the PDA requires employers to treat pregnant employees the same as employees who are temporarily disabled by other health conditions. For example, if your employer provides light duty to all employees who are injured on the job or off the job, it would be discriminatory not to make the same benefits available to pregnant employees with work restrictions. (Learn more on the rules for light duty during pregnancy.)
Although the PDA requires equal treatment for pregnant employees, it does not require employers to provide preferential treatment to pregnant employees. In other words, if your employer doesn't offer light duty to any employees, it doesn't have to create a light duty position for you either.
Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers must 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 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. (See our Disability Discrimination page for more on the ADA.)
While some states require employers to accommodate all pregnant employees, including those with normal pregnancies, Georgia does not.
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), which gives eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off work for medical needs and caretaking responsibilities, including:
To be eligible for FMLA leave, among other things, you must have worked for your employer for at least one year. (For more information, see Taking Family and Medical Leave.)
Under the FMLA, you are also entitled 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 leave laws that provide additional time off, such as state family and medical leave laws or pregnancy disability laws. Georgia, however, does not have these types of laws.
You may have a claim against your employer for wrongful termination if you were fired because of your pregnancy, because you requested or used leave under the FMLA, or because your employer refused to provide job modifications to which you were entitled.
If you believe your employer violated federal discrimination laws, such as the PDA or the ADA, you’ll need to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that interprets and enforces workplace discrimination laws. You may not file a lawsuit until you have taken your claims to the EEOC. The EEOC 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 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 and that you may now to take your case to court. But you have to act quickly: Once the letter is issued, you will have only 90 days to file a lawsuit.
For FMLA violations, 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 (called "reinstatement"). However, reinstatement is not a very common remedy. 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.
More commonly, you can receive 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 no set limit on how much you can receive in lost wages, there are caps on how much you can receive for pain and suffering, out-of-pocket losses (such as the costs of looking for a new job), and punitive damages. The maximum combined award for these types of damages ranges from $50,000 to $300,000, depending on the size of your employer.
If you are considering filing an EEOC 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. A lawyer can try to settle the case with your employer, attend EEOC interviews and mediation sessions, and—of course—represent you in court.
You may be concerned about the cost of hiring a lawyer, especially if you're still out of work. The good news is that many lawyers will charge employees on a contingency basis, which means the lawyer collects fees only if you win your case. And, because laws prohibiting discrimination allow you to recover a separate award for attorneys' fees and costs, less will be taken out of your award to compensate your lawyer.
Learn more about hiring a lawyer in a discrimination case, including how lawyers charge and how lawyers 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.