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Pregnancy Discrimination and the Florida Civil Rights Act

Published on October 8, 2015 | By Mark NeJame - Trial Attorney and Legal Analyst

Pregnant womanAh, October. Roll up your sleeves and get involved! It is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, National Diabetes Month, National Pasta Month, National Sausage Month, National Pizza Month and so much more! (Umm, where did I put that bulky fall sweater?). But for today, we’ll leave the comfort food aside and discuss the importance of pregnancy rights.

This section of civil rights labor law has become a super hot topic in the past two years, ever since the Florida Supreme Court heard a case relating to the issue in 2014. We will call that case “Delva,” named after an employee who sued her employer for discriminatory behavior after she informed them she was an expecting mother. The issue centered around the fact that the Florida Civil Rights Act failed to expressly protect pregnant women. Sadly, this was true: the FCRA historically expressly protected individuals from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status (Section 760.01, F.S., (2011)), but never contemplated pregnant women as a protected class. That all changed when Delva reached the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled that “discrimination based on pregnancy is in fact discrimination based on sex because it is discrimination as to a natural condition unique to only one sex.” The Court included protection for pregnant women within the already-existing sex discrimination provision. This decision was so important that it was codified as statutory law, which now reads:

“The general purposes of the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 are to secure for all individuals within the state freedom from discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status and thereby to protect their interest in personal dignity, to make available to the state their full productive capacities, to secure the state against domestic strife and unrest, to preserve the public safety, health, and general welfare, and to promote the interests, rights, and privileges of individuals within the state.” (Section 760.01, F.S., (2015)).

“Be comforted knowing that if you ever find yourself or a loved one discriminated against for being pregnant, Florida’s got your back.”

This amendment is huge for mothers-to-be, for now they have causes of action under both state and federal law (the federal counterpart is codified as The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, under Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964). There are advantages and disadvantages to filing a claim under either federal or state law, depending on the facts, damages involved and overall goal to be achieved. This is a highly fact-intensive area of law, so contacting an attorney who specializes in employment law is extremely important. It cannot be stressed enough how important time is in when dealing with these types of claims; deadlines for filing these types of lawsuits have strict time limitations and if those deadlines are ignored, a potential plaintiff may forever waive her right to sue.

But wait, there’s more! Let’s talk breastfeeding. Ladies, you are absolutely 100% by law allowed to breastfeed your baby anywhere in public, so long as you are in a place where you are legally allowed to be. What about covering up, you say? Nope, not necessary. Free that nipple if you want; Florida law recognizes and encourages maternal nurturing.

So the Unsung Hero Award goes out to…. The Florida Legislature. Boo, I know, it pains us to admit it at times, but good – no great – laws DO come out of Tallahassee. So be proud to be a Floridian this October. Do a good deed, eat your pizza topped sausage with a side of pasta, and be comforted knowing that if you ever find yourself or a loved one discriminated against for being pregnant, Florida’s got your back.

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