On April 17, 2014, the Florida Supreme Court resolved a certified conflict between two of Florida’s district courts of appeal, to hold that the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA) prohibits pregnancy discrimination. To read the full opinion click here. In so doing, the supreme court quashed the Third District’s decision in Delva v. Continental Group, Inc., 96 So. 3d 956 (Fla. 3d DCA 2012), and approved the Fourth District’s decision in Carsillo v. City of Lake Worth, 995 So. 2d 1118 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008).
The FCRA (formerly known as the Florida Human Relations Act and the Florida Human Rights Act) was enacted five years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), and is patterned after it. In 1978, Congress enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which amended Title VII by redefining sex discrimination to include discrimination on the basis of pregnancy: “The terms ‘because of sex’ or ‘on the basis of sex’ include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” 42 U.S.C § 2000e(k). The FCRA, unlike the federal statute, has never been amended to specifically say that pregnancy discrimination is sex discrimination.
The supreme court found that the FCRA phrase making it an “unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discriminate . . . because of . . . sex” includes discrimination based on pregnancy, which is a natural condition and primary characteristic unique to the female sex. The court also concluded that this construction of the FCRA is consistent with the FCRA’s legislative intent, which “shall be liberally construed.” The Court rejected the Third District’s reasoning in Delva that “ascribed legal significance to the Florida Legislature’s failure to amend the FCRA” after Title VII was amended to specifically include discrimination based on pregnancy.
Chief Justice Polston, who dissented, took a more literal reading of the statute, believing that “the plain meaning of the [FCRA] does not encompass pregnancy discrimination.” The word “sex,” he reasoned, “does not refer to whether one is pregnant or not pregnant even though that status is biologically confined to one gender.”