Women and Justice: Jurisdiction

Domestic Case Law

Moniz v. Reitano Enterprises, Inc. Florida 4th District Court of Appeal (1998)

Sexual harassment

Moniz was injured in an attack by her supervisor at her place of employment during which her supervisor bit her. Moniz was paid $20,000 as a worker’s compensation settlement. This amount was comprised of $12,000 for past and future monetary compensation benefits including any re-employment services and assessment benefits and $8,000 for past and future medical benefits. Attorneys’ fees and doctors’ bills were also paid, including bills for her treatment for psychological injuries. While the worker’s compensation claim was pending, Moniz filed a seven count complaint against her employer, Reitano and her supervisor for 13, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, battery and false imprisonment, based in part on the “biting” incident and in part on allegations that her supervisor continually made sexual suggestions and threatened to fire her if she did not “do the right thing”. She claimed he touched her breasts, grabbed her buttocks, pulled her underwear and rubbed up against her in an aroused condition. The trial court granted summary judgment against Moniz based on its belief that the election of remedies doctrine barred Moniz from seeking relief in tort and under Title VII for 13 because of her worker’s compensation settlement. This Court held that to the extent Moniz’s claims can be separated from the biting incident on which the worker’s compensation settlement was based, the election of remedies doctrine will not bar such claims. As such, Moniz’s claims for 13 and intentional infliction of emotional distress, which were based on a much broader course of conduct than the battery by her supervisor in the biting incident, were not barred by the election of remedies doctrine.

O’Loughlin v Pinchback Florida 1st District Court of Appeal (1991)

Gender discrimination

After disclosing her pregnancy to her employers, Pinchback, a correctional officer at a county jail, was terminated. As a reason for the termination, Sheriff O’Loughlin explained that while pregnant, Pinchback could not perform the duties of a correctional officer and was placing her baby’s health in danger. Pinchback petitioned Florida’s Human Rights Commission for relief, resulting in a finding that O’Loughlin had wrongfully terminated Pinchback in violation of Florida’s Human Rights Act. The Court upheld the determination, explaining that O’Loughlin’s actions were indefensible as there was no evidence that Pinchback (or any pregnant employee) could not perform her work as before. As a result, the Court found Pinchback entitled to back pay.

Garner v. State Commission on Ethics Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal (1983)

Sexual harassment

Complaints were filed with Florida Commission on Ethics against Garner alleging that he attempted to use his position as president of Hillsborough Community College to sexually harass or obtain sexual favors from various female personnel. Following a hearing on the complaints the Commission on Ethics suspended Garner from office for three months. Garner appealed based on Florida Statutes Section 112.313 which provides that “no public officer or employee of an agency shall corruptly use or attempt to use his official position … to secure a special privilege, benefit or exemption for himself or others …” The section defines “corruptly” as “done with a wrongful intent and for the purpose of obtaining ... any benefit resulting from some act or omission of a public servant which is inconsistent with the proper performance of his public duties.” Garner claimed that this statute did not provide adequate notice that 13 was prohibited and that it was intended to cover only economic benefits. In addition, Garner claimed that there were no adverse job-related effects upon employees subject to his conduct. This Court held that since the charges against Garner included his obtaining sexual favors, Garner was “benefited” and that his actions were consistent with the definition of “corrupt” as being inconsistent with the performance of his official duties. Furthermore the Court indicated that it could find no legislative intent to restrict the reach of the statute to economic benefits and that there is no requirement in the statute that as a result of the public officer’s efforts to obtain a benefit from an employee that employee will necessarily be impacted in any particular way. As such, the Court upheld Garner’s suspension.

Weiand v. State Florida Supreme Court (1999)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

n the midst of an abusive marriage, Weiand shot her husband in self-defense. A jury found Weiand guilty of second-degree murder. Weiand appealed, claiming the court had erred by failing to instruct the jury that the duty to retreat did not apply where Weiand was attacked in her own home. Florida law provides that a person may use deadly force in self-defense if she reasonably believes it necessary to prevent imminent death or severe bodily harm. A person is not entitled to use such deadly force in self-defense, where she may safely retreat from harm. The duty to retreat does not apply when an attack takes place in one’s own home. In reversing the conviction, the Court clarified that Weiand was not required to retreat merely because her attacker was a co-occupant of the home. Specifically, the Court explained that increased understanding of domestic violence and its effect on women provided strong policy reasons for not imposing a duty to retreat from the home where deadly force is used against a co-occupant. In fact, the Court relied heavily on policy reasons regarding domestic violence victims in reaching its decision, explaining that a contrary decision would have a damaging effect on women, because they make up the majority of domestic violence victims. The Court reasoned that a duty to retreat jury instruction in such circumstances would perpetuate common myths concerning domestic violence victims by leaving a jury to think that if the abuse was so terrible, the woman should have left.

Burton v. State Florida 1st District Court of Appeal (2010)

Custodial violence, Gender discrimination

Dubreuil proceedings (state legal proceedings used to compel a pregnant woman to undergo medical confinement, treatment, and procedures against her wishes for the benefit of the unborn fetus) were initiated against Burton on a finding that she had ignored her physician’s recommendations, creating a high-risk pregnancy that may result in the death of her baby. A Florida circuit court ordered Burton to forced medial treatment and confinement in a hospital until delivery. Holding that such a determination was inappropriate, the Court reasoned that all individuals have a fundamental right to privacy. The Court explained that Dubreuil proceedings were insufficient to compel a pregnant woman to forcibly undergo medical detention and treatment for the benefit of her unborn child. To overcome Burton’s right to refuse medical intervention in her pregnancy, the State must show a compelling interest and a method for pursuing that interest that is narrowly tailored. The State had failed to do so.

Speedway Superamerica, LLC v. Dupont Florida 5th District Court of Appeal (2006)

Sexual harassment

Dupont, employed by Speedway convenience stores, sued her employer alleging a hostile work environment and 13, in violation of Florida’s Civil Rights Act. Dupont’s complaint stemmed from her interactions with a coworker, Coryell, who shared Dupont’s midday shift. Dupont had for months complained to her superiors that Coryell acted inappropriately with her, both violently and sexually. For instance, Dupont complained that Coryell had inappropriately grabbed her, made sexual comments concerning female customers, and humiliated her. Speedway, at the time, had a written 13 policy, yet no action was taken. Speedway continued to place Dupont and Coryell together on the same shift. The Court found Dupont’s claim viable, noting that Coryell’s conduct – even if not entirely sexual in nature – constituted 13 where motivated by a hostility toward women because of their gender. The Court went on to describe Florida’s policy against 13 in the workplace as strong, noting that courts should liberally construe section 760.10, Florida Statutes. Finally, the Court found an award of punitive damages appropriate, even where the jury had not found Speedway’s conduct willful, because Coryell’s conduct was clearly willful and Speedway had been at the very least negligent in failing to respond to Dupont’s complaints.