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What Is “Marital Status Discrimination”?


Under most circumstances, a Florida employer can fire–or refuse to hire–a person with or without giving a reason. This is what is known as “at-will” employment. But there are some exceptions to this general rule. Notably, federal and state civil rights laws protect employees and job applicants from discrimination on the basis of certain protected characteristics.

For example, you probably know that it is against the law to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, religion, or sex. But there are some other protected characteristics that you may not be aware of. For example, Florida law forbids discrimination in employment on the basis of “marital status.”

What exactly is marital status discrimination? It basically means an employer cannot fire or refuse to hire a person because they are married, single, divorced, separated, or even widowed. Here are a couple of simple examples:

  • James applies for a job. James is married. The employer declines to hire James because it prefers single, unmarried people who can stay late and work longer hours.
  • Susan recently got married. Shortly thereafter, she is denied a promotion. Her boss tells her it is because now that Susan is married and likely to have children, she is expected to put in less effort at work.
  • Douglas recently divorced his spouse. Doug’s boss is deeply religious and frowns upon divorce. So he decides to fire Doug.

All of these hypothetical scenarios would qualify as illegal marital status discrimination in Florida.

No Protection Based on Actions or Identity of Spouse

One thing that would not constitute marital status discrimination, however, is an adverse employment action based on the actions taken by the spouse of an employee. In other words, if your boss fires you because of something your spouse did, that cannot form the basis of a marital status discrimination claim under Florida law.

The Florida Supreme Court discussed this subject in a 2000 decision, Donato v. American Telephone & Telegraph Co. In that case, a husband and wife both worked for AT&T. After the wife no longer worked for the company, she filed a complaint with Florida authorities alleging illegal sex discrimination. AT&T then fired her husband, which he alleged was a retaliatory act.

Unfortunately, the Florida Supreme Court concluded this did not fall within the definition of marital status discrimination. More precisely, the Court said that when the state legislature decided to ban employment discrimination on the basis of marital status, it id not intent to include “the identity or actions of an individual’s spouse.”

Contact Florida Civil Rights Attorney Jose Baez Today

Employment discrimination is rarely overt. Many employers are quite savvy at trying to mask discriminatory motives with some sort of pretext. So if you have reason to suspect that you were actually fired or not hired based on a protected characteristic, it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced Orlando civil rights lawyer. Contact the Baez Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation.


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