Las Vegas Aces fans stood and cheered as their former star Dearica Hamby took the court at Michelob Ultra Arena in May. Wearing the purple jacket of the Los Angeles Sparks, she hugged Aces owner Mark Davis. That night, which was the last time the Sparks played the Aces this season, Hamby was the first player to receive her championship ring to commemorate her former team’s 2022 WNBA title. The moment was poignant because, earlier this year, Hamby wrote on social media that the Aces had questioned her and berated her for her pregnancy before she was told she had been traded to the Sparks. Her accusations prompted the WNBA to launch an investigation, which resulted in the loss of a draft pick for the Aces and a two-game suspension for coach Becky Hammon.
As the teams prepare to meet again this week, nobody involved — from WNBA officials to the Aces and Hamby — is talking about how the situation was resolved, but several key questions remain. Here’s a look at what happened, what is known about what the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement says about pregnancy and maternity leave, and what policies and legal protections might apply to players such as Hamby.
What does Hamby allege?
After Hamby was traded from the Aces to the Sparks in January, she claimed her former team “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” her because of her pregnancy.
Hamby, who had signed a two-year extension with the Aces in June 2022, announced during the team’s victory parade last year that she was expecting her second child. She claims she told the team she intended to play the 2023 season, but that Aces personnel told her they “‘[didn’t] see that'” she’d be ready to return and that she was “‘not taking [her] workouts seriously,'” according to her statement posted to Instagram at the time.
“I was accused of signing my extension knowingly pregnant. This is false. I was told that I was ‘a question mark’ and that it was said that I said I would ‘get pregnant again’ and there was a concern for my level of commitment to the team. I was told that ‘I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain’ (because ‘no one expected me to get pregnant in the next two years’),” Hamby said in her statement.
“Did the team expect me to promise not to get pregnant in exchange for the contract extension? I was asked if I planned my pregnancy. When I responded, ‘no,’ I was then told that I ‘was not taking precautions to not get pregnant.’ I was being traded because ‘I wouldn’t be ready and we need bodies.'”
Hamby, a two-time Sixth Player of the Year, announced March 15 that she had given birth. She hit the court with her new team eight weeks later. She has played in all 19 Sparks games this season, averaging 9.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
How did the league respond to Hamby’s remarks?
The league opened an investigation into Hamby’s allegations. In May, it announced that the Aces had violated WNBA rules on workplace policies and impermissible player benefits, ultimately stripping the team of its 2025 first-round draft pick and suspending Hammon for two games.
The league has declined to release the complete findings of its investigation, so it’s unclear what led to its decision to punish the Aces and Hammon. The WNBA’s investigation included interviews with 33 people and a review of numerous texts, emails and other documents, the league said.
In a statement following the decision, the Aces said they were “deeply disappointed” by the results of the investigation and “committed to supporting all our players to the fullest extent allowed by the WNBA.”
“The WNBA’s determinations about Becky Hammon are inconsistent with what we know and love about her. Becky is a caring human being who forges close personal relationships with her players,” the Aces said at the time. “We stand behind Coach Hammon as she continues to lead the Las Vegas Aces.”
Following the league’s investigation, Hammon denied bullying Hamby but said she once asked the player about her pregnancy: “I guess you’d have to ask for [the league’s] interpretation. But yeah, that from my understanding was a misstep, if you will.”
The WNBA players’ union, on the other hand, called the league’s punishment “far from appropriate,” saying it didn’t go far enough: “The league had an opportunity to send a clear message that it abides by and protects the provisions of the CBA, particularly those that we were most proud of — the provisions meant to support player parents,” the union said in a statement at the time.
What does the law say about pregnancy discrimination and maternity leave?
The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act is a 1978 amendment to the Civil Rights Act that makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers based on pregnancy or any related medical condition. There’s also the Americans with Disabilities Act, which doesn’t directly offer pregnancy protections but requires employers to accommodate pregnancy-related complications — effectively treating those conditions as temporary disabilities. Additionally, the Family and Medical Leave Act gives eligible workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for childbirth or serious medical issues related to pregnancy.
About half of U.S. states, including Nevada, have their own laws protecting pregnant women. Nevada’s Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act requires reasonable accommodation for pregnancy and medical issues that stem from it and can’t deny reasonable accommodations or retaliate against anyone who has requested them.
Because it’s unclear what transpired between Hamby and her former team, or what the league found in its investigation, it’s difficult to determine whether pregnancy discrimination laws apply to her situation.
What does the WNBA’s CBA say about pregnancy and maternity leave, and how does that relate to state or federal laws?
The players’ latest CBA, ratified in 2020, made headlines for offering a benefit that’s still rare in many workplaces: guaranteed maternity leave with full pay (though the agreement also includes language saying teams can cut some bonuses and non-salary perks for players on leave). State and federal laws offer a minimum standard of protections, but employers are free to offer longer maternity leaves and additional accommodations, as the WNBA has done.
The CBA also lumps pregnancy in with “injury, illness or condition” and requires players who expect pregnancy to interfere with their work to notify the team before entering new contracts or accepting restricted, core or reserved qualifying offers. That, however, could be considered a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, said Deborah Dinner, a legal historian at Cornell Law School who specializes in gender in the workplace.
But because the requirement to inform the WNBA is limited to players preparing to change some aspect of their job, University of Nevada Las Vegas law professor Ann McGinley said the limited scope might protect the league. If there was indeed a discrimination violation outlined in the CBA, the law would still protect players who’d signed off on it.
“Generally you cannot contract out of your requirements not to discriminate,” McGinley told ESPN.
Terri Jackson, executive director of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, said in a statement to ESPN that the league and union “sought to negotiate provisions consistent with important federal, state, and other relevant laws.”
“Any provision seen as violating any law must be addressed, and the parties have negotiated that process as well, by agreeing to make changes as necessary to ensure consistency with relevant laws, including any changes or interpretations of relevant law,” she said in the statement. “The 2020 CBA granted player parents hallmark benefits and resulted in the highest number of player parents this league has ever seen. We expect the league to make clear that no team may discriminate against player parents now that players are exercising their rights.”
A spokesman for the WNBA did not return messages seeking comment.
Hamby claims that she’d been asked whether she’d planned her pregnancy. Though there are clear outlines in state and federal law as to when employers are allowed to demand doctor’s notes or other documentation to as part of the accommodation process, whether a pregnancy was planned generally doesn’t have medical impact and wouldn’t fall under those guidelines.
What about situations or jobs that require a certain physical condition?
Federal discrimination laws gauge whether an accommodation an employee requests would significantly burden the company they work for. One common allowance for pregnant employees is to avoid lifting heavy items — a simple task to reassign for a worker at a desk job, but more complicated for workplaces where intense manual labor is the norm and accommodations would affect core job responsibilities.
So while competing in a high-impact sport on a professional level might be unrealistic for someone who is pregnant or dealing with complications, it’s up to the employee to decide what job modifications to request of their boss, Dinner said. It’s an employee’s prerogative to continue working as usual, regardless of how much activity their role requires.
Still, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stipulates that it’s within an employer’s rights to note whether a worker’s performance is suffering, regardless of the reason. In other words, pregnancy and related accommodations don’t shield workers from consequences of their work suffering beyond what an employer can “reasonably” expect, according to the EEOC.
The pregnancy stipulations in the WNBA’s CBA apply to “a player who knows or reasonably should have known that she has a physical disability or other condition (including pregnancy) that would render her physically unable to perform the playing services required under a Player Contract.”
What about contract employees?
Contract and seasonal workers are also protected under the law, and neither Nevada nor federal laws outline exceptions for a worker’s offseason. However, employers don’t have to provide accommodations for pregnant women that cause the employer “undue hardship,” Dinner said. For a workplace with intense swings in employees’ responsibilities depending on the time of year, a court could find that an accommodation that’s minimally intrusive during a slow season would be a more serious burden during busy times.
Can a trade be considered retaliation?
For a court to find an employer guilty of discriminatory retaliation, the plaintiff has to prove that the employer discriminated in hiring or promotions, or tried to “alter the terms and conditions of employment” because the employee was pregnant, McGinley said. In most jobs, both Dinner and McGinley agree that having to move across state lines and work with a new team would be a blatant shift in the working environment.
“I would argue that’s altering the terms and conditions of employment, but I suppose I could argue that it doesn’t, or at least that there’s an expectation that you can be traded anytime under the contract,” McGinley told ESPN.
Even after deciding whether a trade should be considered a change in employment conditions, a plaintiff would also have to convince the court that the decision was tied to protected activity, like requesting accommodations or discussing discrimination with a supervisor.
Retaliation is the most common discrimination issue for courts to determine a complaint is substantiated, according to the EEOC, and the standard for whether a workplace change is serious enough to warrant intervention is broad — workers just have to show that the change might dissuade a reasonable person from pursuing protections. Courts have found that temporarily moving an employee from an office to a cubicle wasn’t enough to bring a case, for example, but changing the schedule for a caretaking parent who has to find childcare is.
“If it were any other work environment, I would say that’s totally unlawful,” Dinner said. “You could argue, well, it isn’t in this case because trading is part of the job. But if it was retaliatory, that still would be an adverse employment action.”
For Hamby to win a discrimination case at trial, she’d have to prove both that the relocation was a significant change to her work environment, and that it was intended to punish her for — or dissuade her from — using her EEOC protections, including asking for accommodations or complaining about discrimination.
A spokesman for Hamby did not return messages seeking comment.