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Florida State Law

In Florida, women are now protected against workplace discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. In case no. SC12-2315 (FL, April 17, 2014) Delva v. The Continental Group, Inc., the Florida Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that the 1992 Florida Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status”, includes pregnant women even though the condition is not specifically identified in the law.

The decision stems from a court case filed by Peguy Delva against The Continental Group, a property management firm. Delva, a front desk manager for the firm, contended that once her employer found out she was pregnant, the firm would not allow her to cover other workers’ shifts or schedule her for work after her maternity leave was up. A Miami-Dade County circuit court and the 3rd District Court of Appeal sided with The Continental Group. The issue was not whether she had a sufficient claim of discrimination (the appeals court said there was “no doubt” that existed), but rather whether the state law covered pregnancy. In their opinion, it did not.

While Congress amended federal civil right law to prevent employment discrimination on the basis of “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” in 1978 by adding the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Florida Civil Rights Act does not expressly mention pregnancy. It only broadly prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s sex. The Florida Supreme Court ultimately held that this sex discrimination automatically includes pregnancy discrimination.

“Indeed, the capacity to become pregnant is one of the most significant and obvious distinctions between the female and male sexes,” the court wrote.

The 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, a bill spelling out that employers may not change work rules on the basis of an employee’s pregnancy. A companion measure, HB 105, is also ready for a vote. The enactment of these measures would codify the Florida Supreme Court’s decision into statute.

In the meantime, the ruling is an incredible victory for Florida employees and the state as a whole- particularly considering that Florida was one of the last states in the United States to pass its own Civil Rights Act.

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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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