Can negative comments about an employee’s pregnancy amount to a hostile work environment?


Ramona, an account representative, had been working at a computer software company for five years when she became pregnant. Considered a “top performer,” she had received multiple promotions and favorable evaluations. During her pregnancy, her supervisor, Henry, began treating her differently and frequently made pregnancy-related comments such as, “You look like a balloon; why don't you waddle on over here?” and, “Pregnant workers hurt the company's bottom line.”

After Ramona returned from maternity leave, Henry continued to treat her differently in various ways, including making negative pregnancy-related comments and denying her requests for schedule changes without explanation while allowing other account representatives to make schedule changes without restriction. Ramona complained about Henry’s conduct to the human resources manager, but he told her he did not want to take sides and that scheduling matters were within managerial discretion.

Ramona filed an EEOC charge alleging that she was being subjected to a hostile work environment because of her pregnancy and use of maternity leave. Will she be successful?


Yes. In a case with similar facts, an investigator found that the employer was liable because of the ongoing, abusive conduct Ramona experienced after she became pregnant. It is unlawful to harass a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. The same legal standards that apply to other forms of harassment prohibited by the EEO statutes also apply to harassment directed at caregivers or pregnant workers.

Employers should take steps to prevent harassment directed at caregivers or pregnant workers from occurring in the workplace, and promptly correct any such conduct that does occur.

Source: EEOC Guidance: “Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities,” reported in Employment Practices Guide, ¶5243.

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