Florida

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Domestic Case Law

State v. Rider Florida 3rd District Court of Appeal (1984)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Sexual violence and rape

Rider was charged with sexual battery on his wife. The trial court dismissed the charges, reasoning that under a common-law exception to rape, a court could not convict a husband for the rape of his wife. The Court of Appeal disagreed, finding no legal authority for the exception and noting that Florida had replaced the common-law crime of rape with the statutory crime of sexual battery. Accordingly, consent to marriage did not include consent to acts of violence. Thus, the court reversed the dismissal and remanded with an order to reinstate prosecution.



Vizzi v. State Florida 3rd District Court of Appeal (1986)

Gender discrimination, Sexual violence and rape

Vizzi, an assistant public defender, was defending his client charged with sexual battery, kidnapping, and false imprisonment and referred to the victim as “a woman who’s trash, gutter filth.” After being admonished by the court, Vizzi proceeded to call the victim “a whore, a two-bit whore.” The prosecutor petitioned the court to instruct Vizzi not to call the victim a prostitute again and the trial court ruled, based on Florida’s Rape Victim Shield Statutes, that Vizzi was not permitted to attack the character of the victim by delving into her prior sexual behavior (other than prior sexual activity that the victim had with the defendant) or by calling the victim a prostitute, whore, or words of similar meaning. Vizzi later called the victim an “exhibitionist” and questioned the victim with respect to her “perform[ing] tricks with customers.” The trial court held Vizzi in contempt for violating its prior order and sentenced him to 5 days of jail time. The appellate court upheld the contempt order based on Vizzi’s failure to comply with the trial court’s ruling.  



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

Employment discrimination, 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 pursuant to Florida’s Human Rights Act (which is patterned after Title VII). The Sheriff argued that Pinchback’s dismissal was based on the affirmative defense of “bona fide occupational qualification” (“BFOQ”), which requires that the employer demonstrate that the discrimination based on sex, religion, or national origin is “reasonably necessary to the normal operation” of the place of employment. The trial court found that the Sheriff violated Pinchback’s rights, which the appellate court upheld. The Court of Appeal explained 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 and remanded the case for further proceedings to determine the back pay and benefits award.



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

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

Dupont, employed by Speedway convenience stores, sued Speedway alleging sexual harassment and hostile work environment. Dupont’s complaint stemmed from her interactions with a coworker, Coryell. For months, Dupont had 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. On appeal from a jury verdict, Speedway argued that it was entitled to summary judgment because the record did not establish that the misconduct was directed at Dupont because of her gender and the evidence did not establish that the conduct was so severe or pervasive that it established a hostile work environment. Speedway also argued that it was entitled to a directed verdict because it took prompt remedial action to address Dupont’s complaints. Finally, Speedway argued that the plaintiff should be barred from collecting $75,000 or more because she successfully filed to have the case remanded back to state court on the grounds that the amount in controversy was no more than $50,000 after Speedway obtained removal to federal court. The Court upheld the jury verdict. It found that Coryell’s conduct was motivated by a hostility toward women because of their gender and that the conduct was sufficiently severe and pervasive to alter the conditions of Dupont’s employment. Finally, the court found that the award of punitive damages was appropriate because Coryell’s conduct was clearly willful, Speedway had been at least negligent in failing to promptly and adequately respond to Dupont’s complaints, and Dupont requested remand to state court in good faith.



Blizzard v. Appliance Direct, Inc. Florida 5th District Court of Appeal (2009)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

A female employee brought suit against her former employer for retaliation and sexual harassment based on claims that, among other things, her supervisor was constantly talking about his penis including graphic descriptions of its size, and his sexual prowess, history, successes, and aspirations. Blizzard did not allege that her supervisor’s comments were directed to her. Instead, she alleged that his comments were pervasive and that the female employees who were receptive to his “management style” received favors and preferences that Blizzard did not. Blizzard’s sexual harassment claim against her employer was based on the employer’s creation of a hostile work environment. The trial court granted a directed verdict for the employer. The appellate court explained that to establish a hostile work environment claim based on harassment by a supervisor, Blizzard was required to show: (1) that she is a member of a protected group; (2) that she was subjected to unwelcome sexual harassment, (3) that the harassment was based on her sex, (4) that the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of her employment and create a discriminatorily abusive working environment; and (5) that there was a basis for holding the employer liable. Relying on the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Jennings v. Univ. of North Carolina, 482 F.3d 686, 695 (4th Cir. 2007), the court found that Blizzard could maintain her claims even though the offensive language and acts at issue were not specifically directed at her and remanded the case for a new trial.



Byrd v. Richardson-Greenshields Securities Supreme Court of Florida (1989)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

Female employees brought allegations of assault, sexual battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent hiring and retention of employees. The Florida Supreme Court considered whether the workers’ compensation statute provided the exclusive remedy for a claim based on sexual harassment in the workplace. The Court found that applying the exclusivity rule of workers’ compensation to preclude all tort liability would abrogate the overwhelming public policy interest in outlawing and eliminating sexual discrimination in the workplace. The Court distinguished workers’ compensation, which addresses purely economic injury, from sexual harassment laws, which are concerned with more intangible injuries to personal rights.  



State v. Hickson Supreme Court of Florida (1994)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

After stabbing her husband in self-defense, Hickson was charged with second-degree murder. As a defense, Hickson sought to admit evidence that she suffered from battered-spouse syndrome. The Court held that expert testimony concerning the battered-spouse syndrome was admissible. The expert was permitted to testify about the syndrome in general or to answer hypothetical questions based on facts in evidence. If the defendant desired to present testimony from an expert who had examined her in order to opine directly about her case, the defendant would be required to submit to an examination by the state’s expert.  If the defendant chooses to have the expert testify generally about the syndrome or answer hypothetical questions, the state will not be allowed to have the defendant examined by the state’s expert but may produce its own expert to testify about generalities and hypotheticals.



Ward v. State Supreme Court of Florida (2008)

Sexual violence and rape

The state sought involuntary commitment of the defendant as a sexually violent predator under the Jimmy Ryce Act. The Act, enacted in 1999, provided for civil commitment procedures for “all persons currently in custody who have been convicted of a sexually violent offense . . . as well as to all persons convicted of a sexually violent offense in the future.” The defendant had been convicted of rape in 1969 and 1976. In 2004, he was sentenced to prison for burglary charges. He argued that the Act did not authorize his commitment since he had not been convicted of any sexually violent offense since the effective date of the Act. The trial court disagreed and the Florida Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the “current confinement period need not be for a sexual offense as long as the individual has been convicted of a sexually violent offense sometime in the past.” 



Gainesville Woman Care LLC, et al. v. Florida, et al. Supreme Court of Florida (2017)

Gender discrimination

The Florida Supreme Court affirmed a trial court’s grant of temporary injunction blocking enforcement of the state’s Mandatory Delay Law. The law imposed a 24-hour waiting period on women seeking abortions. The Court explained that since the law implicated the fundamental right of privacy, it was automatically subject to strict scrutiny review. It found that the court of appeals had improperly put a burden on the challengers to establish that the law imposed a “significant restriction” on the right to privacy before applying strict scrutiny. The Florida Supreme Court observed that the state had presented no evidence of a compelling state interest or that the law served that interest through the least restrictive means.   



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.



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.