Two hours at the gym, a full face of make-up and your best feel-good outfit: that’s how many a girls’ night out begins. But this one ended abruptly when a young woman claims she was turned away from a bar whose owner thought she was pregnant.
Last month, a local Jacksonville, Florida news channel aired this story about a girls’ night out turned sour. “I put on my outfit, my full face of makeup and I’m feeling great about myself. I just put in two hours at the gym,” the woman said. The night seemed full of potential, until the owner of the establishment stopped her at the door, demanding to know if she was pregnant! The outing ended with name-calling and tears before the first round of cocktails. As for the bar owner, he says he was just trying to be responsible by protecting pregnant women from second-hand smoke, alcohol consumption and injury from rowdy crowds.
The woman in this story may not have been pregnant, but the Florida legislature just passed a law that affects mothers-to-be. The amended law will make it illegal, as of July 1, 2015, for hotels, restaurants and employers to discriminate against pregnant women. The law amends the Florida Civil Rights Act to include pregnancy among the other protected classes already enumerated in the law: race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, and marital status.
In April 2014, the Florida Supreme Court held in Delva v. Continental Group, Inc. (No. SC12-2315) that “discrimination based on pregnancy is in fact discrimination based on sex because it is discrimination as to a natural condition unique to only one sex.” Therefore, the Court held, the already existing sex discrimination provision in the state’s civil rights law extends to pregnancy. By passing this legislation, our state lawmakers are just now codifying existing judge-made case law, by amending the express language of the state statute itself.
Since 1978, federal law has recognized pregnancy as a protected class. However, the Florida Civil Rights Act did not specifically contain this prohibition. It took 36 more years for the Florida Supreme Court to rule that pregnancy was included in the term “sex.”
Adding pregnancy to the express language of the Florida Civil Rights Act this year serves its own purpose. Aside from “making it official,” so to speak, there are other important implications of this change. For one thing, individuals now have a cause of action for pregnancy discrimination under state law, which effectively extends the period of time to bring a claim. In addition, successful plaintiffs may be able to recover additional damages under state law, because damages are capped differently under the Florida Civil Rights Act than they are under Title VII’s federal framework.
For now, it appears that the woman excluded from the bar never got the public apology she wanted from the bar owner who soured her soiree. However, child-bearers in the state of Florida now have something to celebrate. And, if and when they do, we can be sure that there is a bar owner out there who hopes they’ll do so responsibly.