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Woman Fired for Having Her Period

by Countable | 8.25.17

What's the Story?

Under federal law, it’s unclear whether menstruation is strictly a "female" matter, so now the courts must debate whether menstruation-based discrimination is unconstitutional.

The legal quandary comes from the case of Alisha Coleman, who’s suing the Bobby Dodd Institute for workplace discrimination after her period leaked on two separate occasions and she was fired.

Coleman was a 911 operator in Fort Benning, Georgia, at a facility that helps individuals with disabilities. She was pre-menopausal, meaning she didn’t get regularly-scheduled monthly periods. In 2015, according to the lawsuit filed by Coleman, she accidentally leaked onto her chair. After cleaning the chair and her clothes, she notified her employer who, the lawsuit claims, told Coleman "she would be fired if she ever soiled another chair from sudden onset menstrual flow."

Seven months later, in 2016, Coleman experienced another sudden-onset period. On her way to the restroom, she accidentally leaked onto the carpet. Though, according to Coleman’s lawsuit, she cleaned the spot with bleach and disinfectant, the company fired her because she failed to "practice high standards of personal hygiene and maintain a clean, neat appearance while on duty."

Why does it matter?

Coleman sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that employers can’t discriminate against a person because of their sex: men can’t be discriminated against for being men, women can’t be discriminated against for being women. Congress later amended Title VII to include the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which says that sex-based discrimination includes discrimination "on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions."

A Georgia district court, however, sided with the Bobby Dodd Institute, Coleman’s employer. As Law Newz explained, "Heavy and sudden periods, [the Court] found, doesn’t amount to ‘sex’; on that basis, Alisha Coleman’s claim was dismissed." The Court ruled that Coleman’s case was flawed because she failed to show that her male colleagues wouldn’t have been fired for the same reason. “According to the Court,” Law Newz elucidated, “we can’t just infer that menstruation is female; we’d have to show that if a man menstruated too much, that *he’d *have been able to keep his job.”

"I loved my job at the 911 call center because I got to help people," Coleman said in a statement. “Every woman dreads getting period symptoms when they're not expecting them, but I never thought I could be fired for it. Getting fired for an accidental period leak was humiliating. I don’t want any woman to have to go through what I did, so I'm fighting back."

Coleman is now being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, who filed a fresh lawsuit with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals last week against the Bobby Dodd Institute. One of the issues on appeal: "Whether the District Court erred in requiring Ms. Coleman to identify a similarly situated male comparator in order to survive a motion to dismiss."

"A heavy period is something nearly all women will experience, especially as they approach menopause, and Alisha was shamed, demeaned and fired for it," Andrea Young, the executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, said in a statement. A senior attorney for the Women’s Rights Project of the organization added, "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.”

The Bobby Dodd Institute released a statement: "Our mission is to help those with disabilities and disadvantages find work and keep work. While we cannot share specific details about this case because it’s become a legal matter, please know there is more to this story than is being portrayed by those who are suing us. We can say we followed proper protocol and went the extra mile to avoid dismissal in this case, as we would for any of our employees."

What do you think?

Is menstruation a female-specific matter protected by Title VII? Are periods just for women? Or was the district court correct in requiring Coleman to "identify a similarly situated male comparator"? Hit the Take Action button, tell your reps if we need to once again amend Title VII, then comment below.

—Josh Herman

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(Photo Credit: johavel / iStockphoto)

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(225)
  • mikesindahouse
    08/25/2017
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    This is another one of those conversations I am truly shocked our nation is having in today's day and age. It is unconstitutional to fire a woman for having her period. Period.

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  • GreenArrow
    08/25/2017
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    Would they have fired her is she unexpectedly threw up? Probably not, they would have understood she was sick. Would they have fired her if she sneezed suddenly, and cleaned it up? Probably not. Like those two this was out of her control, and a medical issue. A fact of biology. This is discrimination pure and simple.

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  • Joseph
    08/25/2017
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    I am very confused on how symptoms of a heavy period are not considered to be associated with being a woman.

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  • Andy1
    08/25/2017
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    "The Court ruled that Coleman’s case was flawed because she failed to show that her male colleagues wouldn’t have been fired for the same reason." Who the hell is this judge and who appointed him. This has the GOP written all over it- high on righteousness, low on logic.

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  • Kodiwodi
    08/25/2017
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    Well you find me a man that menstruates normally and the we will talk about whether or not this is discrimination. Why are we still having conversations like this? We could stop the problem. Stop our menstrual cycles and there would be no births and no men.

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  • Antonice
    08/25/2017
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    Why is this up for debate? What year are we living in? Ridiculous. I can't even type how much I loathe this being up for debate.

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  • Vickie
    08/25/2017
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    Is menstruation a female-specific matter? As far as I know, it is! So it seems to me it should be protected under Title VII. No brainer so case closed. I cannot tell you how many times something similar happened to me when I was peri menopausal. It is horribly embarrassing, but there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Is menopause a female-specific matter? As far as I know it is. So better include that under the Title VII protections as well. This just seems like common sense to me.

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  • Judith
    08/25/2017
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    I'm sorry, are we actually debating if menstruation is inherently cis-female-sex oriented? I mean, I know tRump appears to be suffering from hormonal (and emotional and psychological) imbalance, but I don't think anyone would reasonably assert that perhaps he's just on his menstrual cycle. Men do not menstruate. Is this not an obvious fact to the "brain trust" on that court?

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  • SouthernGal
    08/25/2017
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    This is ridiculous! Add having periods to the long list of things men try to control about women.

    Like (42)
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  • Haley
    08/25/2017
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    If I could "control" my period and avoid any mishaps then I would. How is this even a thing.

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  • Louise
    08/25/2017
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    Um, did I miss something in high school biology but I'm 100% sure that men don't menstruate (unless they are transgender who are waiting surgery for sex reassignment). This is a FEMALE only issue, and to even infer otherwise is ludicrous. This inherently dependent on sex, not gender. Sounds like somebody needs to go back to sex ed.....

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  • Emily
    08/25/2017
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    No, periods are not just a woman thing. Trans-men get them as well, or can, depending on where in their transition they are. That being said, this is so insanely wrong on all levels. If a trans-man got his period and leaked, you can bet he'd be fired, and not just for being on his period. It's discriminatory and wrong.

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  • D. mark
    08/25/2017
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    I hope she keeps fighting until she wins, this is outrageous!

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  • Michael
    08/25/2017
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    This is insane; yes, being fired for having a period is unconstitutional and discriminatory. The argument that firing a woman for having her period, a natural biological occurrence, is not discriminatory is ludicrous and misogynistic. No man would not be fired in this situation, because biologically men do not menstrate - so a man would never be in this situation.

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  • Becky
    08/25/2017
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    This is one of the dumbest things I've read lately. Now, that's saying a lot in these days and times. I cannot even comment how offensive this is to women. What year is this anyway?

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  • Gabriele
    08/25/2017
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    This is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever read!!! Did this judges or employers really had any kind of education?

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  • AnneSR
    08/25/2017
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    Ridiculous. This shouldn't even be a thing.

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  • Ticktock
    08/25/2017
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    I think the mistake was the employers. Where was the shack maintained for females experiencing their menstrual cycle. We all know that females are ostracized during this period. I don't understand the issue. Menstruation is a natural function whether expected or not. It occurring unexpectedly is probably more unpleasant for the woman than for anyone around her, she cannot run from it. The knuckle dragged that fire her must not have been married if he was I bet she wishes she weren't. They need to put him on the phone and make her the manager. She'd probably be better at it. She should not be fired for not being able to control an unpredictable body function.

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  • S
    08/25/2017
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    I can't imagine this company being effective in serving the disabled community, many of whom have physical conditions that aren't "clean." This isn't about a woman's physiology, it's about being a decent employer. Unfortunately, there is no law which protects us from employers who are a bunch of jerks. They should be ashamed of themselves.

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  • Se9n
    08/25/2017
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    I don't think anyone should be treated unfair for a natural thing that every women have to deal with. It completely wrong! Someone can't "self-identity" a natural accuracy like this and this should be a no brainer.

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