Thursday, April 17, 2014

Florida Supreme Court: Pregnancy Discrimination Covered by Florida Civil Rights Act

In Delva v. The Continental Group, Inc. (SC12-2315), the Florida Supreme Court held that pregnancy discrimination is covered by the Florida Civil Rights Act. Justice Pariente wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Justices Quince, Canady, Labarga, and Perry. Justice Lewis concurred in the result. Chief Justice Polston wrote a dissenting opinion.

The fact that pregnancy discrimination is covered by a discrimination statute, on its face, is not a surprise. However, as noted by the majority opinion, an earlier opinion from the First District pointed out that: "In General Electric Company v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125 (1976), the Supreme Court held that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy was not sex discrimination under Title VII [of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, upon which the FCRA was patterned]."

After the United States Supreme Court's decision in Gilbert, the United States Congress amended the federal civil rights act to specifically include pregnancy discrimination. The Florida Legislature also considered the issue after Gilbert but chose not to amend the statute. Therefore, two courts have held that pregnancy discrimination is not covered by the Florida Civil Rights Act (but, of course, still covered under the federal act). Delva v. Continental Group, Inc., 96 So. 3d 956, 957-958 (Fla. 3d DCA 2012); O’Loughlin v. Pinchback, 579 So. 2d 788 (Fla. 1st DCA 1991). After O'Loughlin, but before Delva, the Fourth District had reached the opposite result. Carsillo v. City of Lake Worth, 995 So. 2d 1118, 1120 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008) 

In the opinion released today, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the interpretation by the First and Third District (and, I guess, also rejected the view of the United States Supreme Court), and agreed with the Fourth District's decision in Carsillo. The Florida Supreme Court held that we "embrace the common-sense reasoning of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts" [technically, the Supreme Judicial Court] in that court's 1978 opinion titled Mass. Elec. Co. v. Mass. Comm’n Against Discrimination, 375 N.E.2d 1192, 1198 (Mass. 1978), and agreed with the Fourth District's view that the intent of the legislature was that the statute be broadly interpreted. The majority stated that a contrary conclusion would "be plainly inconsistent with legislative intent, as expressed in the FCRA itself, that the FCRA 'shall be liberally construed' to further its purpose 'to secure for all individuals within the state freedom from discrimination because of . . . sex.' § 760.01(2)-(3), Fla. Stat."