Did your Texas employer fire you because you're pregnant? If so, you may have a case against your former employer for wrongful termination. 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 Texas laws protect pregnant employees from discrimination. They also require employers to provide 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, your employer can't transfer you to another position based on the assumption that you won't be able to do your regular job while pregnant.
Texas’s Commission on Human Rights Act also prohibits sex discrimination, which includes discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. Like the PDA, Texas law prohibits discrimination by employers with at least 15 employees.
Under the PDA and Texas law, employers must treat pregnant employees like they treat other employees who are similarly limited in their ability to work. When it comes to light duty and other job modifications, this means that a pregnant employee with work restrictions is entitled to the same accommodations available to other employees with work restrictions. For example, if your employer regularly accommodates employees who are recovering from surgeries and broken bones, it may have to do the same for pregnant employees with lifting restrictions. (Learn more on the rules for light duty during pregnancy.)
However, federal and state law do not require employers to treat pregnant more favorably than other employees. In other words, if your employer doesn't offer accommodations to anyone, it doesn't 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 be entitled to accommodation. (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), which 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. Texas is not among them, however.
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 FMLA leave.
If you believe your employer violated federal or state discrimination laws, such as the PDA, the ADA, or the Texas Commission on Human 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 Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division (TWCCRD). (As in many states, the two agencies have a work-sharing agreement, so that a charge filed with one agency is also considered filed with the other.) Depending on your claims, you have either 180 days or 300 days to file your charge.
You may not file a lawsuit until you have taken your claims to the EEOC or the TWCCRD. 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 TWCCRD 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. Once the letter is issued, you will have only 90 days to file a lawsuit under federal law. For state claims of discrimination, you have two years from the date you initially filed your claim with the agency.
For violations of the FMLA, you can go straight to court without 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, this remedy isn’t very common. Often, there’s just too much hostility between the former employee and employer to make this work. Also, if your employer hired someone to replace you, reinstatement might require displacing that person, which courts generally don’t like to do.
It's more common to receive money damages for the harm done by your employer’s actions. Depending on the facts of your case, these damages might include:
While there's no cap on lost wages, there is a limit 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. In Texas, these limits apply to both federal and state claims.
If you are considering filing an EEOC or TWCCRD 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).
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.