Until last week, the Florida law was unclear on whether discrimination against pregnancy violated the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”) prohibition against discrimination based on sex.  Under federal law and in most states, a woman may not be discriminated in employment due to a pregnancy.  In Florida, some courts have held that discrimination based on pregnancy violates the state law against sex discrimination and other courts have held that pregnancy discrimination does not violate the law.  That question was finally decided in Delva v. The Continental Group, Inc., No. SC12-2315 (Fla. Apr. 17, 2014). Please contact our network of Employment Law Lawyers for more in-depth information on employment discrimination and a FREE CONSULTATION on other Employment Law issues.

The facts in Delva are as follows: Peguy Delva became pregnant while she worked as a front desk manager for a residential property of The Continental Group, Inc. Once her supervisors at Continental became aware of her pregnancy, they conducted heightened scrutiny of her work, would not allow her to change shifts or work extra shifts despite Continental’s policy allowing it and refused to schedule her after her maternity leave.  Delva filed a lawsuit against The Continental Group, Inc. in 2011.  The trial court dismissed her suit for failure to state a claim and the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s finding.  The trial court and appellate court ruled that the FCRA’s prohibition against sex discrimination does not extend to pregnancy discrimination.  The Third District also certified that its holding was in conflict with a recent holding from the Fourth District Court of Appeal that ruled that pregnancy was to be considered sex discrimination.

The Florida Supreme Court heard the case in order to end the conflict between appellate courts that has existed for several decades as to whether the FCRA protects against pregnancy discrimination.  Both Florida state courts and federal courts that dealt with the FCRA have ruled on this issue differently and all because of a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court opinion.  In 1964, the U.S. Congress passed the federal Civil Rights Act (“CRA”), which among other things outlawed discrimination based on sex.  In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court heard General Electric Company v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125 (1976), in which the Court ruled that the CRA’s prohibition against.sex discrimination did not extend to protect women from discrimination due to pregnancy.  The Congress subsequently added a statute to prevent discrimination based on pregnancy in 1978.  Florida’s Civil Rights Act (known at the time as the Human Rights Act of 1977) was patterned on the federal CRA.  Like the CRA, the FCRA included an explicit prohibition against sex discrimination, but not against discrimination based on pregnancy.  Unlike the federal government, the Florida legislature did not add a statute specifically to protect against pregnancy discrimination.  This would lead to conflicts among different districts in state court and some federal district courts.

With Delva, the Florida Supreme Court decided to settle whether pregnant women are a protected class under the FCRA.  First, the Court looked at section 760.01(3), which states that the FCRA should be “liberally construed” in order to ensure that it purpose of preventing discrimination is achieved.  Next, it looked at the specific language of the statute on sex discrimination and how other state supreme courts have interpreted similar laws.  The Florida Supreme Court adopted the reasoning of the Massachusetts Supreme Court that pregnancy is a natural condition that is unique to women.  Furthermore, the Court agreed with the Minnesota Supreme Court that allowing discrimination based on pregnancy would undermine the FCRA’s prohibition against sex discrimination.  For these reasons, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the Third District Court of Appeal holding in Delva and reinstated her case.

With Delva, the Florida Supreme Court has resolved a decades long conflict among various state and federal courts dealing with the FCRA.  Florida has firmly established that pregnant women may not be discriminated against in the workplace. For further information about the latest legal developments, continue to visit our blog.  Please also contact us to receive a FREE CONSULTATION on your Employment Law issue.