Pregnancy Discrimination Claims
Are pregnant women members of a protected class?
Yes. Under the provisions of the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA), pregnant women are a protected class.
I feel like I have been discriminated against because I am/was pregnant. How do I prove it?
Under Maine law (which closely follows federal law) to make a claim for discrimination based on pregnancy, an employee must show:
If you can show direct evidence of discrimination the above requirements are automatically met. Direct evidence is evidence showing a discriminatory motive, and not just evidence that infers a discriminatory motive.
What is an adverse action?
An adverse action is an action that hurts your employment status, such as discharge, reduction of pay, demotion or divesting responsibilities, or failing to promote. The basic idea is that the adverse action must materially change the conditions of your employment. Just because your employer does something that displeases you, does not mean that you have an adverse action claim. You must be able to show that your employer materially changed your working conditions so that you were disadvantaged.
The following are more examples of adverse employment actions: demotions, disadvantageous transfers or assignments, refusals to promote, unwarranted negative job evaluations, and toleration of harassment by other employees. It is possible that even having your supervisory authority dramatically decreased could constitute an adverse employment action. You do not have an adverse employment action just because your employer imposes additional responsibilities on you. If other employees, who are not engaged in the statutorily protected conduct, have similar demands placed on them, then courts will most likely find that you have not been subjected an adverse employment action.
How do I show that the adverse action happened because of my pregnancy?
You need to show that you would not have been subjected to the actions complained of if you were not pregnant. This can be demonstrated in two ways. First, you can present direct evidence of discrimination. In other words, if your employer told you or otherwise explicitly expressed that adverse action was taken as a result of your pregnancy, you could satisfy this requirement. If you cannot present direct evidence, then the court will look at all the facts surrounding the adverse action. For example, in one case the court found that an employer's dismissal of an employee on the same day she revealed her pregnancy was enough to satisfy this element of her case.
However, mere coincidence is not enough. If the employer can prove that its employment decision was based on a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason, the claim will fail. For example, in another case, a woman whose position was eliminated while she was on maternity leave was unsuccessful in her discrimination claim, because the employer established that it would have eliminated the position whether the employee was pregnant or not.
What practices are prohibited under the Act?
Employers are prohibited from treating pregnant women who are able to work differently than other employees, unless there is a "bona fide occupational qualification." In addition, employers are prohibited from treating medical conditions or disabilities arising from pregnancy differently than other disabilities.
In one case, a woman succeeded on a claim of discrimination when her employer excluded pregnancy and childbirth from its sick leave coverage, but allowed all other temporary disabilities.
What is a bona fide occupational qualification?
Employers may lawfully discriminate against pregnant women if pregnancy would prevent a woman from performing essential job functions safely and effectively. This exception is restricted to very limited circumstances and does not include positions which the employer deems to be too strenuous for the pregnant employee or potentially harmful to her fetus.
Can an employer refuse to hire me, because I may become pregnant?
No. Actual or anticipated pregnancy cannot be taken into account in reaching an employment decision.
Can my employer fire me if I miss work for doctor's appointments or other pregnancy related matters?
Employers can dismiss you for poor attendance at work, even when absences are related to pregnancy, but they must use the same attendance standard that they use for non-pregnant employees. Your employer is not allowed to dismiss you for taking an authorized maternity leave.
Is the employer required to provide additional benefits for pregnancy and conditions related to pregnancy?
No. Under Maine law, employers are not required to provide any additional medical benefits, sick leaves, or leaves of absence for pregnancy that they do not provide for their other employees. However, if your employer has more than 50 employees, you may have rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
For what amount of time can I take leave because of pregnancy?
Under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), employers are required to give you up to 12 weeks of leave if you have worked for you employer for 12 months and for at least 1,250 hours. However, the FMLA only applies to employers who employ more than 50 employees. For more information about the FMLA, please see "Family Medical Leave Act" under the Federal Laws section.
What happens to my job while I am on pregnancy leave?
While on FMLA-approved leave, your job is still yours. Upon return from FMLA leave, you must be restored to your original job, or to an equivalent job with equivalent pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.
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