Florida Supreme Court Rules Pregnancy Discrimination Is Sex Discrimination

By:  Rachel D. Gebaide

April 20, 2014

The Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”) does not specifically state that discrimination based on pregnancy is prohibited, but the Florida Supreme Court ruled last Thursday that the extra language is unnecessary:  The FCRA’s existing prohibition against discrimination based on “sex” includes discrimination based on pregnancy.  Delva v. The Continental Group, Inc., No. SC12-2315, 2014 WL 1491497 (Fla. April 17, 2014).

The federal law prohibiting employment discrimination based on pregnancy has been clear, at least since 1978 when Congress enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to amend Title VII.  Florida’s Legislature did not include the term “pregnancy” in the list of protected classes when it enacted the FCRA, nor has the Legislature amended the FCRA to resolve the ambiguity.

Florida’s District Courts of Appeal were split on the issue.  The Fourth District held that the FCRA prohibits pregnancy discrimination.  The Third District in the Delva case held that the FCRA does not prohibit pregnancy discrimination.  The Florida Supreme Court reversed the Third District and resolved the issue in favor of expanding the protections against employment discrimination under state law.

The Florida Supreme Court held 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 and that arises ‘because of [an] individual’s  . . . sex.’” (citation omitted).  Id. at *3.  The Court also reasoned that the Florida Legislature intended that the FCRA, which was patterned after Title VII, “shall be liberally construed” to further the general purpose of eliminating discrimination based on sex.  Id., at *4.

Although Plaintiffs alleging discrimination based on pregnancy have federal relief available to them under Title VII, the Delva decision is nevertheless significant.  First, the expanded FCRA permits gives a second chance to charging parties who do not file their Title VII claims within the 90 days period after receiving their right to sue letters (if they have not already missed a state filing deadline).   Second, the FCRA provides no cap on compensatory damages, including alleged damages for “mental anguish, loss of dignity, and any other intangible injuries.”  In the absence of a cap, plaintiffs likely will add an additional count under the FCRA to any complaint alleging pregnancy discrimination under Title VII.

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