Did your Ohio employer fire you because you're pregnant? If so, you may have a wrongful termination case. 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 Ohio laws protect pregnant employees from discrimination. In certain circumstances, they also require employers to provide time off and reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees.
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 rely on stereotypes about pregnant women and new mothers in making job decisions.
The Ohio Human Rights Law also prohibits sex discrimination, which includes discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. Unlike the PDA, Ohio's employment discrimination law applies to employers with four or more employees.
Under the PDA and Ohio law, employers must provide pregnant employees with the same accommodations that are available to employees who are temporarily disabled by other health conditions. For example, it would be discriminatory for your employer to provide light duty or other job modifications to all employees with work restrictions except pregnant employees. (Learn more on the rules for light duty during pregnancy.)
However, federal and state law do not require employers to treat pregnant employees more favorably than other employees. This means that, if your employer doesn't provide accommodations to any employees, it doesn't have to accommodate you 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. Employers with 50 or more employees 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.
Although some states have laws that require additional time off for pregnancy and parental leave, Ohio does not.
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.
Before you can file a lawsuit based on violations of 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 agency that interprets and enforces federal workplace discrimination laws). You also have the option of filing a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) for violations of state law. (However, you can take your state claims straight to court if you wish.) Depending on your claims, you have either six months or 300 days to file your charge.
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 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. But be ready to act quickly: Once the letter is issued, you will have only 90 days to file a lawsuit. If you want to file a lawsuit under Ohio law, you must file within six years of the actions you allege were discriminatory. However, it's best not to wait. You'll want to file your suit 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 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:
Although there's no limit on lost wages, federal law does place 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. The maximum combined award for these types of damages ranges from $50,000 to $300,000, depending on the size of your employer.
Under the Ohio Civil Rights Act, courts used to allow uncapped awards of emotional distress damages and punitive damages. In recent years, however, the Ohio legislature enacted a tort reform law capping the total damages that can be awarded in these categories. At least one state appeals court has decided that these caps apply to discrimination cases brought under the Ohio Civil Rights Act. (However, the Ohio Supreme Court has not yet passed judgment on that holding.) An experienced employment lawyer can tell you how your local courts have ruled on these issues.
If you are considering filing an EEOC or OCRC 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.
Especially if you are still out of work, you may be concerned about the cost of hiring a lawyer. In discrimination cases, however, lawyers generally charge on a contingency basis, which means the lawyer collects fees only if you win your case (by taking a percentage of your recovery). And, because laws prohibiting discrimination allow successful employees to collect awards for attorneys' fees and court costs, you may be able to keep more of your award.
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.