Florida Supreme Court Overturns 3d DCA: Discrimination on Basis of Pregnancy Prohibited Under Florida Law
On April 17, 2014, the Florida Supreme Court overturned a decision by Florida's Third District Court of Appeals and held that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is prohibited under Florida law.
As a result, employers must be very careful to ensure that pregnant women are not treated differently in the work place. Specifically, employers cannot refuse to hire a pregnant woman and they cannot discriminate based upon a pregnancy-related condition. If a pregnant woman is temporarily unable to perform job related functions, the employer must treat her the same as any other temporarily disabled person.
The decision, Delva v. Continental Group, 2014 WL 1491497 (Fla. 2014), is the first time the Florida Supreme Court has held that discrimination based on "sex" includes discrimination based on pregnancy. The Court held that pregnancy is a natural condition which is a "primary characteristic unique to the female sex."
Delva was a front desk manager who worked at a residential property management by Continental. Delva alleged that after she disclosed her pregnancy she was subjected to heightened scrutiny of her work, she was not permitted to change shifts and work extra shifts despite Continental's policy which permitted such activity, and Continental refused to allow her to return to work after she completed her maternity leave.
Federal law already prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, but the Florida appellate courts had been split regarding the existence of such a state law cause of action. Additionally, S.B. 220 is progressing through the Florida legislature this session. On March 26, 2014, the Florida Senate voted unanimously to approve the amendment to the Florida Civil Rights Act which would have the same effect. Based on the progress through the legislature, it is likely this precedent will be codified in Florida Statutes relatively soon. As a result, it is not likely that these issues of potential liability will change or retract in the near future and employers must be vigilant to protect themselves against these new claims. The best way to protect yourself and your business is to take care to treat all employees who are temporarily limited in a similar manner.