While Burk tort damages are unlimited, those under Title VII are capped at up to $300,000, depending on the size of the company, she said.
Title VII protects employees who work for companies that have at least 15 employees.
Lawsuits on the rise
In Bryant v. Veolia Water North America-West, the plaintiff said she was fired two weeks after she, following her doctor’s orders on weight limits, requested a work buddy to help move large water hoses. But Veolia said she was fired because of habitual tardiness and performance problems that predated her pregnancy.
"The fact an employee is pregnant doesn’t stop an employer from having a legitimate right to require employees to adhere to their rules and policies,” Neal said. As with all performance issues, employers should keep careful and consistent documentation, she said.
Meanwhile, the number of pregnancy discrimination lawsuits continue to rise. Nationally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission processed 6,196 charges in 2009, down slightly from 6,285 in 2008, but up from 5,587 in 2007 and 4,901 in 2006.
Of those, 78 pregnancy discrimination cases were filed in Oklahoma last year, compared with 67 in 2008, 75 in 2007 and 57 cases in 2006.
Outcomes favorable to charging parties are found in about 25 percent of lawsuits, said EEOC attorney Diana Johnston. She speculates the increase in pregnancy discrimination lawsuits is due to an increasing number of women in the work force and a poor economy, in which overall charges tend to rise.
"Sometimes employers make assumptions about women,” Johnston said.
"They think they’re going to have children and therefore will be less productive in the work force,” she said.
"But even with statistics that show women likely will have gaps in employment because they’re staying home with children, you have to treat pregnant women individually and as you’d treat other employees with other kinds of disabilities,” Johnston said.
"A lot of women take a very short time off work for pregnancy.”