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Discrimination Law Covers Pregnancy: Court

Florida Supreme Court
The Florida Channel
Florida Supreme Court

The state's civil rights laws include the protection of women discriminated against for pregnancy, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The opinion finds that the intent of current statute, though not explicitly addressing pregnancy, protects individuals based on gender.

In a 6-1 decision, the majority justices apply their ruling to the case of plaintiff Peguy Delva, who was working for South Florida real estate developer Continental Group when she became pregnant.

Delva sued the company in 2011 alleging she was denied extra shifts and wasn't scheduled to work after she returned from maternity leave.

The court overturned a lower appellate court ruling that the Florida Civil Rights Act does not extend to discrimination in employment on the basis of pregnancy.

The court's opinion takes a broader view of the law, ruling that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy extends to the law regarding the protection of an individual based on gender.

Although federal law is explicit in its protection of pregnant women, state laws have in some cases failed to be so specific, in some cases relying on protections of gender.

The court cited rulings in Massachusetts and Minnesota in which pregnancy was part of gender protections.

The court writes that although the state's civil rights statute "does not specifically include the word 'pregnancy' in listing the classes of individuals that are protected from employment discrimination," the act does explicitly make discrimination based on sex unlawful.

Chief Justice Ricky Polston was the lone dissenter, faulting the language in statute.

"I respectfully dissent because the plain meaning of the Florida Civil Rights Act does not encompass pregnancy discrimination," Polston wrote. "On its face, the term 'sex' does not refer to whether one is pregnant or not pregnant even though that status is biologically confined to one gender."

The opinion moves the case back to the original county court, as the actual merits of the discrimination claim have never been heard.

Delva initially filed her case in Miami-Dade County, where the court also sided with the view of the defense that because pregnancy is not explicitly stated as a protected condition with regard to civil rights, the case had no standing.

Travis Hollifield, an Orlando attorney who represented Delva before the Florida Supreme Court, said that federal law provides protections related to pregnancy, "and that's what the Florida statute is based on."

He's opposed to pending legislation that would add the term 'pregnancy' to the existing statute, contending that "we want the judicial system to work out its own errors. I don't think the legislative effort is needed at all now. Any argument for a legislative fix is destroyed by this opinion."

The sponsor of the bill (HB 105), Rep. Lori Berman, D- Boynton Beach, said Thursday's ruling further justifies the need for the bill's passage.

"This rulings show that we need to move forward to make this language part of the statute," said Berman, a lawyer. "We're really playing catch up with the law."