*Alisha Coleman, a 911 operator who had worked at the Bobby Dodd Institute in Fort Benning, Georgia for nearly a decade, claims she was fired from her job in 2016 because she experienced heavy period leaks at work. She tried to take her employer to court for discrimination, but she had no support and the case was thrown out. Now, with the ACLU behind her, the case is much stronger.
According to the ACLU, the first incident happened in Aug. 2015, Coleman accidentally leaked menstrual blood onto her office chair and was told by her manager to leave work and change clothes.
Coleman’s site manager and the Bobby Dodd Institute’s HR director allegedly gave her a disciplinary write up a few days later, warning her that she “would be fired if she ever soiled another chair from sudden onset menstrual flow,” according to the ACLU brief.
Then, on April 22, 2016, Coleman had another heavy period flow incident.
It happened when she got up from her desk to go to the restroom, and some menstrual blood leaked onto the carpet.
The ACLU says Coleman was relieved from working that day by her Site Manager and Site Supervisor. When she returned to work on April 26, she was fired.
“I loved my job at the 911 call center because I got to help people,” Coleman said in a statement released by the ACLU. “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.”
The Bobby Dodd Institute wrote the reason for Coleman’s firing was “her alleged failure to ‘practice high standards of personal hygiene and maintain a clean, neat appearance while on duty,’” according to the ACLU brief.
Because Coleman’s case was dismissed in February by a District Court, on August 17 the ACLU said her case will be retried. The court had rejected her argument that her pre-menopause was “related to pregnancy or childbirth” under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. According to the ACLU appeal brief, the district court called her pre-menopause symptoms “excessive menstruation.”
In a brief filed with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals the ACLU said that the lower court failed to recognize that periods and pre-menopause side effects are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The legislation prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex. (Scroll to page five here to read more about Coleman’s first trial.)
“Employers have no business policing women’s bodies or their menstrual cycles,” Andrea Young, ACLU of Georgia executive director, said in the ACLU statement. “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.”