The Florida State Supreme Court ruled last week that pregnancy discrimination is a form of sex discrimination under Florida employment law.
The 6-1 decision allows Peguy Delva to proceed with her lawsuit against her employer, real estate developer Continental Group. Delva alleged that her employer, real estate developer Continental Group, denied her extra shifts after she became pregnant and failed to reschedule her to work after maternity leave. A lower court dismissed Delva’s case, finding that the Florida Civil Rights Act did not extend to discrimination in employment on the basis of pregnancy. The Florida Supreme Court rejected that ruling, noting that the Florida law does provide protection against discrimination based on sex and that this protection extends to pregnancy. The court cited similar rulings in Massachusetts and Minnesota.
The Florida decision puts Florida state law in line with the federal 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act – whose passage was championed by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Eleanor Smeal, then-president of NOW. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act explicitly recognizes discrimination against pregnant women as a form of sex discrimination and prevents employers from legally discriminating against pregnant women in hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, career development, or benefits. “Florida law will now finally recognize the state of the law as established by the federal government,” said Smeal, now president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act expanded economic opportunities for women, helped women maintain job stability, protected women against lost wages and costs associated with job loss, and contributed to families’ overall financial well-being. Yet, pregnancy discrimination in the workplace persists. A report released last summer by the National Women’s Law Center demonstrated that many pregnant women are not given even basic accommodations during pregnancy, and many pregnant workers—especially those in lower-paying jobs or jobs traditionally held by men—are fired or forced to take unpaid leave when they request these adjustments.
In response to this continued discrimination, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Robert Casey (D-PA) introduced the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act last May. The Act would clarify that pregnant women are guaranteed the same workplace protections that are in place for other workers temporarily unable to perform job duties without reasonable accommodations. The Act would also prohibit an employer from forcing a pregnant worker to use unpaid leave if she is able to work with a reasonable accommodation.
Media Resources: Miami Herald 4/17/14; RH Reality Check 4/21/14; Feminist Majority 10/31/13; National Women’s Law Center 6/18/13