Pregnancy and Family Caregiver Discrimination

Our Boston pregnancy discrimination lawyers represent employees who have been discriminated against as a result of pregnancy, family leave, or family caregiver status. Many workers struggle with the competing demands of raising a family or taking care of sick or elderly loved ones and maintaining their employment. While Massachusetts has taken some steps to require most employers to offer unpaid parental or leave and adopt earned sick time policies, many workplaces do not offer paid parental or maternity leave unless their corporate policies or handbooks require it. As a result, employees contemplating taking a leave from work or returning to work after taking a leave face many questions about their legal rights in the workplace, which is governed by a broad array of state and federal laws, and individual company policies.

Pregnant women are entitled to work under the same conditions as other employees, and state and federal law protect women from discrimination due to pregnancy. This includes discrimination based on current pregnancy, past pregnancy, potential pregnancy, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, including lactation (in other words, breastfeeding). Pregnant women also have rights under state and federal laws to take leave for pregnancy-related conditions or in connection with childbirth. Disability law also protects pregnant women: a pregnant worker whose pregnancy-related medical condition qualifies as a disability under the relevant law may seek reasonable accommodations in the workplace (for example, lighter duties); a pregnant worker is also protected from disability discrimination by an employer who treats her as if she is disabled (and therefore refuses to hire her, terminates her, or takes some other adverse action against her, such as reassigning her to a lower-paying position over her objections). And after a baby is born (including after an adoption), women are entitled to time to recuperate and to bond with their child; this is often referred to as parental leave or maternity leave. A new law—the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act—goes into effect in April 2018, and provides additional protections for pregnant workers.

Fathers also have a right to care for their children without fear of repercussions at work. Both federal and Massachusetts laws guarantee leave to men after the birth or adoption of a child: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has made clear that, under Title VII, “similarly situated men and women” must receive parental leave “on the same terms.” In 2014, Massachusetts amended its parental leave law to clarify that both men and women are entitled to eight weeks of leave. The law is thus clear on this issue but employers do not always recognize men’s rights to parental leave or paternity leave. Although federal and Massachusetts law do not protect caregivers as a specific class of people, the EEOC has recognized that employees with caregiving responsibilities face discrimination in the workplace related to these responsibilities. Caregiver or family responsibility discrimination arises in several situations: Employers violate federal and state law if they treat caregivers differently based on sexist stereotypes; an employer cannot, for example, deny a mother a promotion based on the false assumption that her kids will distract her from managerial responsibilities while elevating fathers without a second thought to their ability to balance work and family. An employer likewise cannot discriminate against a father for playing an active caregiving role in his children’s life (and thereby refusing to conform to the gender stereotype that men do not provide childcare). Nor, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, can an employer discriminate against employees based on their association with a disabled person; an employer cannot, for example, fail to hire a man caring for his blind father because the employer fears that the man will be overwhelmed by the demands of supporting someone who cannot see. An employee who has caregiving responsibilities for a family member may also be entitled to protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) when that employee takes time off to care for a family member.

Our Boston pregnancy discrimination lawyers’ strong advocacy in this area has helped employees obtain substantial settlements when their rights are violated. This area of the law continues to evolve. Employers do not always recognize that they are discriminating when they make assumptions based on stereotypes – i.e., “being nice.” Indeed, some employers may assume that they have taken a generous position – by, for example, steering a pregnant woman away from a tough assignment or client so she can rest – when in fact they have unfairly discriminated against an employee who can and should determine for herself what she work she is able to complete. We have the expertise to evaluate these complex potential claims, negotiate with employers, and to litigate cases in a variety of forums, including the MCAD, EEOC, and state and federal courts.

If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your pregnancy or caregiver status call Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein at (617) 742-6020 to speak with a pregnancy discrimination lawyer.

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