Under both federal law and Florida state law, almost every form of discrimination is illegal when it comes to employment. In some cases, federal anti-discrimination laws conflict with state laws, however, making it difficult for both employers and employees to understand their rights and responsibilities. One of these areas involves the treatment of pregnant women.
Under a 1978 amendment to Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, pregnancy discrimination is illegal. This means employers cannot fire employees because they are pregnant, nor deny promotions for this reason or make any other adverse employment action of the basis of pregnancy. However, although Florida's anti-discrimination law echoes most of Title VII, it has not been amended to cover pregnancy discrimination.
Because of this discrepancy between state and federal law, pregnancy discrimination lawsuits are very complicated in Florida. In some cases, the courts have concluded that Florida's laws do allow claims for pregnancy discrimination, but other courts have ruled that pregnancy discrimination is not illegal in the state.
Two state lawmakers are working to expressly outlaw pregnancy discrimination in Florida to clear up the confusion and ensure that pregnant women are not wrongly terminated from their jobs or refused opportunities because of their pregnancy.
Two bills, SB 774 and HB 717, would allow those who have experienced workplace pregnancy discrimination to sue for back pay as well as punitive damages as high as $100,000.
The future of these bills remains to be seen. For now, those who have experienced pregnancy discrimination are wise to seek legal counsel. An employment law claim may still exist under state law in order to hold an employer responsible for the discrimination. In some cases, pregnancy discrimination claims may also fall under sex discrimination or sexual harassment, for example.
Source: Fox 51 WOGX, "Florida lawmakers look to end discrimination against expecting mothers," Kimberly Wiggins, Feb. 19, 2013