Florida Supreme Court Extends Pregnancy Discrimination to Claims under FCRA

In Delva v. Continenal Group, 2014 WL 1491497, -- So.3d – (Fla. April 17, 2014), the Florida Supreme Court extended discrimination claims to those for alleged actions based on pregnancy.  The court ruled that being pregnant is a natural condition and primary characteristic of women, a protected class under the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”), and therefore, pregnancy discrimination claims were covered under the statute.

Ms. Delva was a front desk manager who worked at a residential property managed by Continental.  She alleged that “Continental conducted heightened scrutiny of her work, refused to allow her to change shifts and work extra shifts despite Continental’s policy permitting those actions, refused to allow her to cover other workers’ shifts, and refused to schedule her for work after she returned from maternity leave.”  On challenge of her treatment, the trial court and appellate court both ruled that she failed to state a claim.  Their decisions were based in federal law and that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was created separate and apart from Title VII, of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), meaning that pregnancy was not a type of discrimination covered under the FCRA because the FCRA was patterned after Title VII.

The Florida Supreme Court was asked to rule in Delva because of a “certified conflict” between two of Florida’s District Court of Appeals.  One court concluded that prohibition in the FCRA against sex discrimination in employment practices includes a prohibition on discrimination based on pregnancy, and one court which concluded the opposite.  The Delva court sided with the former, noting that the statutory construction of the FCRA included all national characteristics unique to a particular gender. 

The court looked to section 760.10(1)(a), Florida Statutes, which provides that:

 (1) It is an unlawful employment practice for an employer:

 (a) To discharge or to fail or refuse to hire any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status.

Then, the court reviewed the legislative intent of the FCRA, noting that while the FCRA did not specifically include pregnancy as a basis for discrimination, the above statute specifically states that discrimination is forbidden based on sex, among other things.  The court naturally concluded that pregnancy was a natural condition “unique to women and a primary characteristic of the female sex,” and one of the primary differences between men and women, and that discrimination based on pregnancy was in fact discrimination based on sex.  The court noted that this interpretation was in line with the statutory intent that the FCRA was to be liberally construed to protect against discrimination.

An “employer” under the FCRA includes “any person employing 15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, and any agent of such a person.”  § 760.02(7), Fla. Stat.  Any employer as defined in the FCRA should be mindful of this recent decision in managing and decision making regarding its employees.  Goren, Cherof, Doody & Ezrol, P.A. can assist in developing employment policies covering this decision as well as all employment practices.  For more information regarding this case, Delva v. Continenal Group, please contact Bram Maravent or any of the Shareholders at the firm.