Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978: Cases & Concept

Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is a key part of employment law to protect pregnant women in the workforce. Explore the key concepts in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and important court cases where it applies. Updated: 02/07/2022


The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and makes discrimination based upon pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions illegal 'sex discrimination' under Title VII.

Key Concepts

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act - PDA - prohibits discrimination against a pregnant woman in most employment situations so long as she can perform the major functions of the job. It applies to a broad range of employment activities including, but not limited to, hiring, firing, layoffs, promotions, pay, benefits and training.

Employers have to treat pregnant women the same as they treat other temporarily disabled employees. An employer may not make a pregnant employee undergo any sort of medical clearance procedure to work unless employees that are similar in their ability or inability to work must also undergo the same procedures. If an employer permits a temporarily disabled employee to take disability leave with or without leave, the employer must also allow a woman temporarily disabled due to pregnancy the same type of leave. An employer must hold open the position due to a pregnancy the same amount of time the employer holds open a position for an employee who is sick or temporarily disabled.

Important Court Cases

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was enacted in response to the Supreme Court's decision in General Electric Company v. Gilbert where it held that pregnancy-based discrimination did not fall under the scope of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The PDA in effect reversed the Supreme Court's ruling, amending the Civil Rights Act to include prohibition against pregnancy discrimination. In Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. v. EEOC, the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. In UAW v. Johnson Controls the Supreme Court held that an employer could not refuse to hire women of childbearing aged based upon a risk that chemicals the employees would be exposed to could be a potential hazard to a fetus.

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