What Is – And Is Not – Marital Status Discrimination?
If you have an employee who alleges that they are being discriminated against because of their marital status, be it single, married, divorced or something else, is that a valid claim? Do you, as an employer, have to worry about being sued because you treated someone unfairly based on their marital status?
Marital Status is a Protected Class, in Florida
The answer in Florida, along with some other states, is yes—federal law does not protect marital status, but Florida law does make it specifically illegal to discriminate against someone in the workplace on the basis of their marital status.
However, there is more to marital status discrimination, and these kinds of cases are tougher for employees to prove than you may think. That’s because to be breaking Florida law, an employer must be specifically discriminating against someone for the sole reason of their marital status.
Specific Discrimination is Permissible
A company certainly could not say that they don’t want to hire married people, because they always want weekends off to spend with their spouses. They could not refuse to hire single people, because they are more likely to go out to bars and drink. They could not only hire single people, under the belief that single people work harder or stay at work longer hours.
These are all examples of discriminating simply based on someone’s marital status (as well as being gross generalizations and stereotypes).
However, it is legal to discriminate on the specific identity of someone’s spouse, and that has not been held to be the same as marital discrimination in general.
For example, a company could have a policy that no corporate officer can be married to someone on the company’s Board of Directors. A company could have a policy that prohibits spouses from working in the same department of the company, or institute or enforce an anti-nepotism policy. A company could say that no employee can be hired who may be married to a police officer or a teacher or a doctor, or some other class of people or professions.
In fact, some courts have found it legal for a company to punish, or discriminate against an employee, because their spouse did something the company didn’t like, or said something against the company. Courts have even allowed an employee to be fired, even though the employee was fired as retaliation for a spouse’s lawsuit against the company.
In these cases, courts have said that employers are not specifically discriminating based on someone’s status or state as a married (or single) person, but rather, the policy targets a specific person, which is allowable.
This exception for specific people only applies in marital discrimination cases. It is not an exception when it comes to discrimination against other protected classes, like gender, race, religion or sexuality.
Call the West Palm Beach employment law attorneys at Pike & Lustig today if you have a question about a legal issue with your employees, or related to your business or workplace.