The Supreme Court of Florida recently ruled that the Florida Civil Rights Act’s (“FCRA”) provision prohibiting sex discrimination in employment (Fla. Stat. § 760.10(1)(a)) encompasses discrimination based on pregnancy. Delva v. Continental Group, Inc., 2014 Fla. LEXIS 1316 (Fla. 2014). The ruling is significant, even though pregnancy discrimination is already illegal under federal law, because there may be additional damages available under Florida law.

Ms. Delva worked as a front desk manager for The Continental Group, Inc., a property management company. Ms. Delva alleged that her supervisor treated her differently due to her pregnancy - refused to allow her to work extra shifts and did not return her to her regular schedule once she was cleared to return to work. The lower courts dismissed Ms. Delva’s claims. Drawing an analogy to Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, which prohibited sex discrimination in employment but not pregnancy discrimination until it was amended in 1978 to include the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the appeals court concluded that, because Florida never amended its state civil rights act to prohibit pregnancy discrimination, discrimination based on pregnancy was not an unlawful employment practice under Florida state law.

The Supreme Court of Florida disagreed. Instead, the Court emphasized that “the capacity to become pregnant is one of the most significant and obvious distinctions between the female and male sexes.” Therefore, the court concluded that discrimination based on pregnancy is discrimination based on sex.

Although pregnancy discrimination in employment has been illegal under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act since 1978, Florida plaintiffs now have the option to file lawsuits alleging such discrimination in a Florida state court, or add an additional state law count to lawsuits filed in federal court. Unlike the federal law, non-economic compensatory damages awarded to a plaintiff are not “capped” under the FCRA. As a result of the Delva decision, employers may see complaints of pregnancy discrimination being filed more frequently in Florida state courts because state court judges are generally less likely to grant summary judgment. Regardless, Florida employers should ensure that their policies and practices prohibit all forms of discrimination based on sex, pregnancy included.