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Marriage-Based Employment Discrimination in Florida


Discrimination in the workplace is prohibited in Florida by federal and state laws. In an employment discrimination lawsuit, it is generally up to the employee alleging that the discrimination occurred to present all of the elements of a discrimination claim, and then up to the employer to show that the treatment of the employee that was allegedly discrimination was not, in fact, motivated by an improper discriminatory reason or intention.

Under Florida’s state Civil Rights Act, unlawful discrimination includes discrimination based on an individual’s:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Pregnancy
  • national origin
  • Age
  • Handicap
  • marital status.

One of the elements that the employee must establish is that he or she is someone who is protected by the antidiscrimination laws based on his or her classification into one of the categories listed above. Although the classifications may seem straightforward, the courts are sometimes called upon to determine whether a claimant is, in fact, classified within the category claimed.

What Constitutes Marriage-Based Discrimination: Donato v. AT&T 

Generally, a successful marriage-based discrimination claimant must establish that his or her employment circumstances or status was directly and adversely impacted or informed by the fact of his or her marriage. There are a variety of circumstances under which such a claim might arise. In what is perhaps the most obvious illustration, a claimant might assert that his or her status as a newly married individual caused him or her to lose a job opportunity that was offered to and accepted by an unmarried colleague. Less obvious fact patterns have emerged, however. How do we know what constitutes discrimination in these cases? For example, can an employee successfully claim that he or she was improperly discriminated against based on his or marriage if he or she was allegedly discriminated against in retaliation for the actions of his or her spouse? When a case in which this argument was raised came before the Florida Supreme Court, the court held that the anti-discrimination statute was not so broad as to cover this situation.

What Happened in Donato v. AT&T?

In this case, the plaintiff husband and his wife had worked for the same employer. The plaintiff claimed that he was the victim of employment discrimination because he was fired shortly after his wife filed a sexual discrimination claim against the employer. (The wife had been discharged from her position as well, between the time that she filed her discrimination claim with the Florida Commission on Human Relations and the time she filed her own discrimination and retaliatory discharge case in court).

The crux of the plaintiff’s claim hinged on the Florida Supreme Court’s interpretation of what the term “marital status” meant. After considering the arguments, the court decided that “marital status” meant an individual’s state vis a vis the marriage relationship, whether it be married, single, separated, divorced, or widowed. The definition did not extend, however, to the identity or actions of the individual’s spouse. Therefore, the plaintiff could not claim an action for “marital status” discrimination based on the allegedly unlawful discharge that he claimed resulted from his wife’s actions.

Contact Us Today for Help 

If you are operating a business in south Florida or in the Fort Lauderdale area and have concerns about employment discrimination claims or defenses, contact an experienced Fort Lauderdale business lawyer at Sweeney Law.




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