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Florida Civil Rights Act Bans Pregnancy Discrimination

Posted: April 17, 2014 Filed under: Case Law, Employment Law

The notion that laws banning sex discrimination also ban pregnancy discrimination seems obvious to many. Others, however, note that gender and pregnancy are not the same thing and, therefore, that language prohibiting gender discrimination prohibits just that and not pregnancy discrimination. After all, The United States Supreme Court held in 1976 that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy was not sex discrimination. General Electric Company v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125 (1976). (Note: Following the Gilbert decision, Congress amended federal anti-discrimination laws to specifically make pregnancy discrimination illegal.)

Today, in Delva v. The Continental Group, Inc., No. SC12-2315 (Fla. April 17, 2014), the Florida Supreme Court declared that gender discrimination includes pregnancy discrimination under Florida state law because pregnancy “is a natural condition and primary characteristic unique to the female sex.”

In reaching its 6-1 decision, the Florida court looked to prior decisions by the supreme courts of Massachusetts and Minnesota. The Massachusetts court determined in 1978 that a “classification which relies on pregnancy as the determinative criterion is a distinction based on sex” and is, therefore, illegal. Similarly, the Minnesota court concluded a year later that “[a] woman should be no more burdened than a man if she chooses to combine the roles of parent and employee, simply because the woman must bear the child.”

Before Delva, state and federal courts in Florida were divided over the question of whether the ban against gender discrimination also banned pregnancy discrimination. In overturning a decision of the Third District Court of Appeal holding that gender did not include pregnancy, the Supreme Court of Florida finally settled an issue that had been festering for years:  “[A] liberal construction of the [Florida Civil Rights Act] to effectuate its purposes, as specifically provided for in the statute itself, 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.”

Admitted: Florida, Kansas, New Mexico (inactive)