The Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA) prohibits discrimination in employment based on sex. The state law defines “sex discrimination” to include “discrimination because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.” In South Texas College v. Arriola, a Texas appellate court considered for the first time whether the TCHRA protects an employee who has announced her intention to become pregnant.
Cynthia Arriola was an accounting group manager with South Texas College. In July 2017, Arriola informed her coworkers and supervisors that she was attempting to get pregnant. The employee claimed that her supervisors “reacted negatively to this news and [Arriola] was disciplined and harassed as a result.” She asserted that shortly after she complained of this treatment, the college terminated her employment.
Arriola filed a charge of discrimination with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). However, the TWC responded with “a notice stating that it was dismissing her claim and would not be drafting a charge of discrimination on her behalf.” Arriola later brought suit against the college, alleging that she was subjected to discrimination and retaliation because she was attempting to get pregnant. The college sought to dismiss the claim because Arriola failed to allege a viable cause of action. According to the college, the TCHRA does not protect employees who are attempting to get pregnant. The trial court refused to dismiss the claim and the college appealed.
The sole issue on appeal concerned whether the TCHRA’s prohibition against discrimination on the basis of pregnancy included attempting to become pregnant. The Texas Court of Appeals noted specifically that this was an issue of first impression for Texas courts. Because neither side offered any controlling authority from Texas, the court of appeals looked to federal courts for guidance. The TCHRA specifically provides that it is intended to execute the policies of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court of appeals observed that an overwhelming majority of the federal courts that have addressed the issue concluded that Title VII prohibits discrimination against women who express an intention to become pregnant. Based on these opinions, the court of appeals held that employees who are attempting to become pregnant are covered by the TCHRA.
This decision provides a legal foundation for these claims going forward. Employers may want to ensure their managers and HR personnel are aware that employees who are attempting to become pregnant are now members of a protected class under state case law. In the future, when considering employment decisions, management and HR may want to determine, as an initial matter, whether employees have announced that they intend to become pregnant in making the appropriate employment decision now that such employees fall within a protected category.