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Florida’s sex discrimination law includes pregnancy discrimination


Most of Florida's workers are at-will employees, meaning that they can be terminated for any reason, or no reason, as long as the termination does not violate the law.

Florida's Civil Rights Act, originating in 1977 as the Florida Human Rights Act, makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex. In the decades since, there has been a split among the Florida courts, and the federal courts applying Florida law, as to whether pregnancy a condition undoubtedly unique to females-is indeed a condition upon which employers could make employment decisions.

Delva v. Continental Group

A female front desk manager, working at a residential property, sued under the Florida Civil Rights Act, alleging that her employer, contrary to policy, closely scrutinized her work, did not allow her to change shifts or work extra hours or cover coworkers' shifts, and did not schedule her to work after she came back to work after her maternity leave.

Upon hearing the woman's case, the Florida appellate court decided that the Civil Rights Act prohibition against sex discrimination did not include discrimination against pregnancy in large part by analogy to similar language in a former version of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, as construed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court held that pregnancy discrimination was not sex discrimination in 1976. However, in response to the Supreme Court's ruling Congress enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.

Only Women Can Become Pregnant

In Delva, the Florida Supreme Court began its analysis with a review of the statute and its provision that prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee because of an individual's sex. Looking to Massachusetts' interpretation of an almost identical statute, that court's analysis first looked to whether pregnancy is a sex-linked classification. The court decided that since only women can be pregnant, pregnancy is a sex-based distinction and thus within the Civil Rights Act prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex.

The Florida court praised the common-sense approach of Massachusetts, and adopted it, noting that the Massachusetts' court was following a Minnesota approach that both pregnancy and childbirth are included within sex discrimination.

Liberal Interpretation of Civil Rights Act

Finally, the Florida Supreme Court concluded that its decision was well within the stated legislative purpose of the Civil Rights Act and that it should be liberally construed.

Despite the powers of employers regarding termination, if you feel that an employer has crossed a line and terminated you for a discriminatory reason, you should contact an attorney to review the facts leading up to your termination and what actions may be taken, under both Florida and federal law, to protect your rights and your employment.

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