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EMPLOYMENT LAW ALERT

FLORIDA SUPREME COURT RULES THE STATE’S CIVIL RIGHTS ACT BARS PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION  

 

The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that the Florida Civil Rights Act ban on discrimination based on gender does cover claims of pregnancy discrimination.  This decision resolves a conflict among the appellate courts in this state.  Delva v. Continental Group, Inc.  (Fla. April 14, 2014).

The Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 (“FCRA”) does not include the word “pregnancy” in the classes of individuals who are protected from employment discrimination.  The FCRA does, however, make it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any individual because of the individual’s “sex.”  But, because the FCRA does not specifically include “pregnancy,” some Florida courts refused to expand the statute beyond the plain language. 

 Congress recognized this deficiency in the federal anti-discrimination law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  In 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) was added, which explicitly prohibits sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. However, many states, like Florida, have civil rights laws that don’t expressly identify pregnancy as a protection.  While the Florida state legislature had not similarly amended its human rights law to include a prohibition against pregnancy-based discrimination, the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Delva directly addresses this issue.

In the Delva matter, Peguy Delva worked as a front desk manager for the Continental Group, a property management firm.  In 2011, she filed a lawsuit against The Continental Group, alleging that, because of her pregnancy and in violation of the FCRA, her former employer began treating her differently by unfairly scrutinizing her work, refusing to allow her to change shifts and work extra shifts despite company policy allowing those actions, refusing to allow her to cover other workers’ shifts and refusing to schedule her for work after she returned from her pregnancy leave.

The trial court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a cause of action under the FCRA and the appellate court affirmed the dismissal.

The Florida Supreme Court, in ruling that FCRA covers pregnancy, noted that “pregnancy is a natural condition unique to women and a primary characteristic of the female sex . . . [and] discrimination based on pregnancy is in fact discrimination based on sex because it is discrimination as to the natural condition unique to only one sex . . .”  The Court concluded that “discrimination based on pregnancy is subsumed within the prohibition in the FCRA against discrimination based on an individual’s sex.”  

The Florida Supreme Court’s decision arrived at a time when the state legislature was working to fill the gap between state civil rights protection and federal law. The Florida Senate unanimously approved SB 220, which would add pregnancy to the list of protected classes under the state law. Meanwhile, HB 105, a companion measure, is ready for a vote. Should the measures be enacted, they would codify into statute the Florida Supreme Court’s decision.

 

Claire Saady is a partner in Saady & Saxe, P.A., and concentrates her practice in the area of employment law. She can be reached at claire@saadyandsaxe.com or 813-909-8855.

 

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