Pregnancy Now a Protected Class Under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination

1216321_68701662.jpgNew Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill into law in late January 2014 amending the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) to include pregnancy as a protected class. The LAD has long protected employees from discrimination based on sex and disability, but it did not include pregnancy as a distinct class until now. New Jersey’s law, in addition to prohibiting discrimination and retaliation based on pregnancy or childbirth, identifies specific examples of reasonable accommodations employers should provide.

Strong protections for pregnant employees are critically important, as many women find it necessary to continue working well into their pregnancies. According to a report issued last year by the National Women’s Law Center, about two-thirds of first-time mothers worked during their pregnancies between 2006 and 2008, compared to only forty-four percent between 1961 and 1965. Of the women who worked while pregnant from 2006 to 2008, eighty-eight percent of them worked through their last two months of pregnancy, and eighty-two percent worked into the last month. Their income is also generally indispensable, as the study found that women are the primary “breadwinners” in forty-one percent of families, with more women in that role among lower-income households. The laws relating to pregnancy and employment, however, are still changing to reflect these realities.

Federal law, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978, also protects against discrimination based on pregnancy. The PDA added pregnancy as a distinct type of gender discrimination. It addresses discrimination and retaliation for covered employers, but not reasonable accommodations. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to pregnancy discrimination, although neither the courts nor the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have defined employers’ obligations to accommodate employees under this law. Only eight states, including New Jersey, specifically include pregnancy as a protected class in their anti-discrimination laws. Some cities, like New York, include it in their anti-discrimination ordinances.

The new bill, S2995, passed the New Jersey Assembly on January 6, 2014, and the governor signed it on January 21. According to its text, it “[p]rohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.” It amends the LAD, codified at N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12, to include pregnancy as a protected class for employers and labor organizations. The law therefore prohibits discrimination in hiring, firing, promotions, job duties, shift assignments, benefits, and other features of employment, based on pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions associated with either.

The bill adds a new subsection to the LAD, as N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(s), providing examples of reasonable accommodations that employers must allow for pregnant employees, such as frequent water and bathroom breaks, rest periods, modification of work schedules or job duties, or temporary transfers to different job duties. The employer cannot penalize the employee by, for example, cutting hours unreasonably. This subsection also expressly prohibits treating a pregnant employee differently than employees who are not pregnant but are “similar in their ability or inability to work.”

If you need to speak to a knowledgeable and experienced employment attorney in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group at 973-781-1204 or 646-867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

New York Attorney General Announces Settlement Reached in Pregnancy Discrimination and Harassment Lawsuit Against Syracuse Mortuary School, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, December 6, 2013
New Jersey Law Protects Workers from Discrimination Prohibited by Proposed Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, December 5, 2013
High Profile Lawsuit Demonstrates Why New Jersey Employers Should Always Protect Workers From Unlawful Sex Harassment, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, September 19, 2013
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