Employment Discrimination – What are the elements required to establish employer pregnancy discrimination under Tennessee law?

Posted on Sep 8 2013 9:07PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  The recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision, Pierce v. City of Humboldt, Tennessee, 2013 WL 1190823, No. W2012-00217-COA-R3-CV (Tenn.Ct.App. 2013) dealt with an alleged pregnancy discrimination situation.  In this case a police officer asserted she was discriminated against and terminated due to her pregnancy.  We are not going to discuss the specifics of this case for the purpose of this post because I want to simply highlight the required elements for a pregnancy discrimination case in Tennessee.


This lawsuit was brought under the Tennessee Human Rights Act found in T.C.A. § 4-21-101 et. seq.  Under the Tennessee Human Rights Act, terminating employment based on an employee’s sex is a “discriminatory practice” that is prohibited by the Tennessee Human Rights Act.  Pierce at 9.  The Tennessee Human Rights Act was designed to prevent discrimination based on federal statutes including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.  Pierce at 9.  As a result, under Tennessee law “an unlawful employment practice occurs whenever pregnancy alone is a motivating factor for an adverse employment action.”  Pierce at 10. 


There are two ways to establish pregnancy discrimination in Tennessee.  The first is to produce sufficient evidence that a specific adverse employment action was caused by intentional discrimination.


This method focuses primarily on the discriminatory conduct.  Employees using this method may present either direct or circumstantial evidence of intentional discrimination or a combination of both.  Direct evidence of intentional discrimination includes an acknowledgment by an employer of discriminatory intent. Circumstantial evidence of discrimination includes ambiguous statements, suspicious timing, or instances in which similarly situated, non-pregnant employees received systematically better treatment.


Spann v. Abraham, 36 S.W.3d 452, 464 (Tenn.Ct.App. 1999).  The second method to establish a pregnancy discrimination claim, is by the indirect method.  In order to establish the indirect method, the plaintiff must establish four specific elements:


(1) she was pregnant; (2) she was qualified for her job; (3) she was subjected to an adverse employment action; and (4) there is a nexus between her pregnancy and the adverse employment action.  As in a gender discrimination claim, the fourth element “requires proof that the employer treated non-pregnant employees better.


Pierce at 10 (citing Spann at 468).  Ultimately, the appellate court found in the Pierce case that the evidence presented at the trial court was sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment and therefore this case should not be dismissed at this time.


Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Defense Litigation blog.

TAGS: Employment Law
There are currently no comments associated with this article.
Post a Comment / Question
Email Address:
Email a Friend
Email this entry to:
Your email address:

Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

Enter keywords:
Subscribe   RSS Feed
Add this blog to your feeds or subscribe by email using the form below
Copyright © 2018, Jason A. Lee. All Rights Reserved
Tennessee Defense Litigation Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
611 Commerce Street, Suite 2603
Nashville, TN 37203
Phone: 615-540-1004
E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com