In 2016, Alisha Coleman, a 911 phone operator from Georgia who had been working at the Bobby Dodd Institute for nearly a decade, was fired for getting her period at work. Now she, with help from the ACLU, is suing the company for “unlawful work discrimination.”
“Firing a woman for getting her period at work is offensive and an insult to every woman in the workplace. A heavy period is something nearly all women will experience, especially as they approach menopause, and Alisha was shamed, demeaned and fired for it. That’s wrong and illegal under federal law. We’re fighting back,” said Andrea Young, the executive director of ACLU Georgia, in a statement.
Coleman had been struggling with heavy flow periods in 2015 and 2016, a common symptom of pre-menopause, and after having two incidents of leakage at work, her employer fired her on the basis that she failed to “practice high standards of personal hygiene and maintain a clean, neat appearance while on duty,” according to the statement brief made by the ACLU.
(Alisha Coleman, ACLU Georgia)
The first incident happened in August 2015, when Coleman was leaving a meeting and had accidentally leaked menstrual blood onto her office chair. She reported it to her supervisor and was asked to leave work and change clothes, which she did. In spite of this, a disciplinary order was sent to her by the Site Manager and the Human Resources Director, warning her that “she would be fired if she ever soiled another chair from sudden onset menstrual flow,” according to the brief.
Coleman took the precautions necessary for it to never happen again, but in April of 2016 she had another incident, with some blood leaking onto the carpet as she was walking to the bathroom. She immediately cleaned it up with bleach and disinfectant, but a few days later she was fired.
“Every woman dreads getting period symptoms when they’re not expecting them, but I never thought I could be fired for it,” said Coleman in the brief.
She initially filed a suit back in February, citing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which should protect workers from discrimination based on sex and including “pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.” However, her case was rejected by the district court as they dismissed it as “excessive menstruation,” which would not be protected under this law.
Now, Coleman is back fighting, this time backed-up by the ACLU, and this time they hope to win.
“Federal law is supposed to protect women from being punished, harassed or fired because of their sex, and being fired for unexpectedly getting your period at work is the very essence of sex discrimination,” said Galen Sherwin, who is Senior Staff Attorney at the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU. “This kind of blatant discrimination against women in the workplace is why the ACLU Women’s Rights Project was founded 45 years ago, and why the fight for gender equality must continue.”
Alicia Coleman’s case is yet another example of how issues concerning sexsim and gender inequality in the workplace are not solidly protected under American law, and are thus easy for a legal system, which tends to be a part of that very same gender discrimination, to dismiss, neglect and overrule.
Top photo: Degrassi: The Next Generation
This post was published September 12, 2017
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