Pregnancy Discrimination in Florida after the Delva Decision

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As you may know, in Delva v. The Continental Group, Inc., Case No. SC12-2315 (Fla. April 17, 2014), the Florida Supreme Court resolved a split among Florida appellate courts as to whether the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”) prohibits pregnancy discrimination in employment. As expected, the Florida Supreme Court determined that the FCRA’s prohibition on sex discrimination in employment was broad enough to include pregnancy discrimination, which it found to be “a natural condition and primary characteristic unique to the female sex.” Notably, the Delva decision does not change the legal burdens and obligations of Florida employers who have 15 or more employees, but the decision does have some procedural/practical effects on potential discrimination claims.

Previously, if a female plaintiff wanted to sue a defendant for pregnancy discrimination, she would have been forced to litigate such a claim in federal court under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act or face possible dismissal of her claim. Now, plaintiffs may file in state court where state judges are less likely to grant an employers’ motion for summary judgment than their federal peers. Additionally, plaintiffs and employers alike should be aware that the FCRA, unlike its federal counterpart, permits the recovery of unlimited compensatory damages. Thus, while the Delva decision does not change the legal obligations of an employer, the stakes just got higher for an employer who engages in pregnancy discrimination. The FCRA can now be used as a tool by savvy plaintiffs who choose to file their claims in state rather than federal court where having their cases heard before a jury which can award substantial damages are increased.