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NY Federal Judge: Expecting Fathers Cannot Allege Pregnancy Discrimination Under Title VII

Photo of a father and daughter sitting in kitchen,father is doing home financials while daughter is having fun with digital tablet
By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. | Last updated on

In what appears to be a novel issue before federal courts, a former employee of Disney Streaming Service had his lawsuit alleging pregnancy discrimination under Title VII dismissed.

The complaint alleged that Disney discriminated against and harassed him because he would soon be a father. The actions he said were discriminatory included his belief that employees hacked into his private computer, said that he "shouldn't have a kid," and questioned if he had a good reason to have a child.

Upset by this and other acts, he filed a complaint with human resources. HR failed to disclose the results of an investigation and only offered that he could choose to resign. When he returned from a two-week parental leave, his manager commented to him about stillbirth. Shortly after, he was fired without cause and not given a severance, according to the assertions laid out in the complaint.

"Familial Status" Is Not a Protected Class

Employers can fire employees for any reason, or none, so long as the reason isn't discriminatory toward a protected class. According to U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Buchwald, familial status, such as being a parent, is not a protected class.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act clarified that "sex" under Title VII includes "pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions." Importantly for this case, it also continues ". . . and women affected by pregnancy . . ."

According to Judge Buchwald, who does not offer much textual analysis in her order, the plain text of Title VII does not protect an employee whose spouse is pregnant, only an employee who is pregnant. This part of the PDA doesn't necessarily preclude a reading as protecting expecting fathers, however.

The complaint does not "overtly" argue that he has a valid claim under the "sex plus" protected class in the PDA, according to the district court opinion. Even if he had, Judge Buchwald continued, the plaintiff failed to offer details on how the conduct he experienced compared to expectant mothers. Judge Buchwald dismissed the New York state claims on similar grounds.

Could Other Lawsuits Have More Success?

Because the lawsuit did not have enough detail in its complaint, another similar case in another jurisdiction may be able to proceed with a claim under Title VII. For example, if a non-carrying mother alleged pregnancy discrimination or an expecting father could show that he experienced disparate treatment compared to similarly situated expecting mothers.

Regardless, it is an interesting and novel claim. For now, it isn't clear if the plaintiff will appeal.

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