The Florida Supreme Court handed down its long-awaited decision in Delva v. The Continental Group, Inc., No. SC12-2315 (April 17, 2014), holding that the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”) should be interpreted as prohibiting pregnancy discrimination as a form of discrimination against women because of their gender. By this decision, pregnant women can now invoke the statutory and administrative protections afforded by the FCRA and file suit in state court rather than be relegated to filing in federal court only (some practitioners believe that employees have a better chance of having their cases reach a jury in the state court system).
The ruling overturned the dismissal of Peguy Delva’s pregnancy discrimination complaint for failure to state a cause of action based on the argument that the FCRA does not cover pregnancy discrimination. Delva alleged that she was denied extra shifts and wasn’t scheduled to work after she returned from maternity leave.
The Supreme Court rejected a long-running argument that the FCRA didn’t mention pregnancy discrimination and, if the Legislature had wanted to include pregnancy discrimination as a form of gender discrimination, it should have done so expressly.
The Florida Supreme Court concluded that the FCRA should be construed liberally and “makes clear that discrimination based on pregnancy, a natural condition unique to females and a primary characteristic of the female sex, is subsumed within the prohibition in the FCRA against sex discrimination in employment practices.” The Court went onto state that even though the FCRA does not specifically identify pregnancy as a protected class, “discrimination based on pregnancy is in fact discrimination based on sex because it is discrimination as to a natural condition unique only to one sex and that arises “because of [an] individual’s …sex.” The Court reasoned, “[t]o conclude that the FCRA does not protect women from discrimination based on pregnancy – a primary characteristic of the female sex—would undermine the very protection provided in the FCRA to prevent an employer from discriminating against women because of their sex.”
Over the last few years, it appears that more young women in the workforce unafraid to assert their rights have increased the filing of pregnancy discrimination claims (which, up until now, have been recognized only under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act and filed in federal court). Employers should be cognizant of the rights of pregnant employees and comply with their legal obligations in the workplace.
The Schwarzberg & Associates Employment Law and Compliance Team has extensive experience in developing effective policies, procedures and proactive responsive measures to deal with a myriad of workplace issues. Please do not hesitate to contact one of our members; Steve Schwarzberg or Lisa Kohring at (561) 659-3300 to obtain more information about our firm and its various employment law compliance and defense services.