Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender. These protections apply to educational programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance.
Recent investigations by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights have revealed that pregnant students, or those perceived as pregnant, are often subjected to discriminatory practices. Often organizations will limit a pregnant student’s opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities. In the worst examples, these students are forbidden from continuing their studies.
Academic organizations can take certain steps to prevent Title IX pregnancy discrimination allegations. This includes considering how the organization with successfully defend itself if allegations are made, while protecting both the organization and the pregnant students' rights.
Title IX Pregnancy Discrimination Law
Title IX prohibits any discrimination based on a person's sex or gender, which includes pregnancy. Both federal and state law uphold anti-discrimination provisions for pregnant students.
Employers cannot deny job opportunities, terminate employment, or otherwise discriminate based on pregnancy. Moreover, employers must make accommodations to ensure that pregnancy does not affect an individual's career potential.
Accommodations can involve:
- Reevaluating job roles to compensate for physical limitations.
- Guaranteeing fair pay and benefits, treating the pregnant person like any other employee.
Training Faculty and Staff to Recognize Signs of Pregnancy Discrimination
The best defense to any accusation is good planning and preparation, preventing these problems.
Employers should take time to educate human resources and other managers on pregnancy bias. The teaching must be thorough, covering both overt and unintentional bias.
Overt discrimination, for instance, would be denying an expecting mother a well-deserved promotion. Unintentional bias might be expecting her to do tasks that would be overly challenging or dangerous. Managing discrimination can be difficult, and if an employer goes too far in either direction either way, they may be in violation of Title IX violation. Education is the key to avoiding potential problems.
With proper training, employers and employees can work together to create a respectful, productive work environment for all.
Appropriate Pregnancy Accommodations
- Provide guidance on how to ensure all maternity-related laws are followed.
- Train their managers on how to address and prevent pregnancy discrimination.
- Provide resources such as extra time off or alternative hours whenever possible.
- Make sure there are flexible policies and designated spaces available for pregnant employees.
Common Defenses in Title IX Discrimination Cases
Employers face distinct challenges when it comes to allegations of pregnancy bias, which can cause significant reputational harm even if the complaints are unfounded. The following are some typical defenses used by organizations when faced with these allegations:
Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ) refers allows employers to discriminate based solely on the demands of the job. For instance, if your religion states that you cannot handle pork products, then you may not be able to get work at a barbeque restaurant.
When it comes to pregnancy, a BFOQ can apply if the job requires physical demands that could potentially harm the pregnant employee or the unborn child. For example, if an airline company has safety regulations that prohibit pregnant women from working as pilots due to the risk it poses, it may apply a BFOQ to exclude pregnant women from that specific job.
Poor Job Performance
Ultimately, if someone is not keeping up with the demands of a job, the employer has the right to terminate them, demote them, and so on.
However, employers must be careful when accusing a pregnant employee of poor performance. If the pregnancy itself is the reason for the reduced performance, the employer could be accused of violating Title IX. Imagine, for instance, a warehouse worker who discovers she is pregnant. In this scenario, the employer is expected to make accommodations, such as temporarily moving the employee to a different role.
The Employee Is in Breach of Contract
If an employee violates their contract, an employer has every right to terminate their employment.
As with poor job performance, however, the employer must be very careful when using this defense. Employers should not appear to be looking for an excuse to fire someone, relying on coded language or technicalities. Such cases can be easy to debunk, especially if the employee has strong evidence of discrimination.
The Employer Has a Legally Compliant Seniority System
Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) allow for a seniority system in the workplace. However, this system must be based on tenure within the workplace, not age.
Put simply, a pregnant employee can miss opportunities because of this system, not because anyone discriminated against them.
Parisi, Coan & Saccocio, PLLC helps protect upstanding employers from unfounded Title IX allegations. If your organization needs help, please contact us online today for a free consultation. You may also call our office at (737) 200-2332.