Florida's civil rights law prohibits pregnancy discrimination despite not explicitly saying so, says the Florida Supreme Court in overturning a lower court decision and ruling on the issue for the first time.
Peguy Delva had filed suit against her former employer, residential property manager the Hollywood, Fla.-based Continental Group Inc., in 2011, charging the company with pregnancy discrimination, according to Thursday's ruling by the Florida Supreme Court in Peguy Delva vs. The Continental Group Inc.
Ms. Delva, a front desk manager who worked at a residential property managed by Continental, which has since changed its name to FirstServices Residential, alleged that because of her pregnancy, the company conducted heightened scrutiny of her work; refused to allow her to change shifts and work extra shifts despite its policy permitting those action; refused to allow her to cover other workers' shifts; and refused to schedule her for work after she returned from maternity leave.
The Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 “does not specifically include the word 'pregnancy' in listing the classes of individuals that are protected for employment discrimination practices,” says the ruling.
The law, “does, however, explicitly make it an 'unlawful employment practice for an employer … to discriminate against any individual … because of such individual's … sex,'” the ruling says.
Pointing to a Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling on the issue, the Florida high court said, “We embrace the common-sense reasoning of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts that pregnancy is a natural condition unique to women and a 'primary characteristic of the female sex.'
“Indeed the capacity to become pregnant is one of the most significant and obvious distinctions between the female and male sexes. For this reason, 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,'” said the ruling in quoting the state civil rights law.
Ruling otherwise “would also be plainly inconsistent with legislative intent,” said the court in its 6-1 ruling, which overturns a ruling by the state appellate court in Miami.
“We emphasize, however, that this court has not been called upon to review the merits of the plaintiff's employment discrimination claim,” said the court in remanding the case for further proceedings.
In his dissent, Chief Justice Ricky Polston said the “plain meaning” of the state civil rights law does not encompass pregnancy discrimination.