The Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes it illegal to fire, or not hire, a woman because she is pregnant. But when companies need to make tough choices during the recession, some are wondering whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act actually hurts women by deterring businesses from hiring them to begin with. John Stossel and Ruth Chenetz report on this debate for “20/20” (H/T Julie Tower-Pierce at Darling Hill).

According to the Stossel/Chenetz report, “it is just a fact that some employers avoid hiring people who fall into special, Congress-protected groups.” That’s because the costs of compliance with discrimination laws can be high, and companies are fearful that they’ll be vulnerable to discrimination claims. The story quotes Carrie Lukas, a mom who has taken maternity leave three times but opposes pregnancy discrimination laws, admitting that compliance can be expensive. Lukas says:

Sometimes the laws that are intended to help women like me actually end up hurting women like me. All of a sudden, a potential employer is looking at me and thinking, she just might turn around and sue us. That makes it less likely that I’m going to get hired.

But David Sanford, a lawyer who has filed a class action against drug company Novartis for pregnancy discrimination, says he has no problem with the costs of compliance: “If companies lose money because of [complying with discrimination laws], and they may, that’s not necessarily a bad thing from a societal perspective.”

Ultimately, Carrie Lukas is confident that laws aren’t necessary to protect women from pregnancy discrimination. She says:

Plenty of employers would hire pregnant women. Women are incredibly productive members of the workforce. We have a lot to offer. If an employer is going to discriminate against enough people, it’s going to be bad for them in the long run. It’s a bad business practice and that’s the best way to prevent discrimination.

What do you think? Do women still need protection from pregnancy discrimination or are laws making the matter worse?

And, on a related issue, what impact do workplace discrimination laws have on a company’s layoff decisions. Michael Fox, of Jottings by An Employer’s Lawyer, shares some advice on that matter at Business Management Daily.