The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia is taking legal action to defend a Columbus woman who was allegedly terminated from the Bobby Dodd Institute in 2016 after experiencing a heavy menstrual flow at work.
The ACLU submitted a brief to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals stating that Alisha Coleman was the victim of workplace discrimination as a 911 dispatcher at the Bobby Dodd Institute, a job training and employment agency. She was fired after accidentally soiling a carpet and office chair with menstrual fluid in two separate incidents, according to the union.
“Employers have no business policing women’s bodies or their menstrual cycles,” said Andrea Young, an executive director at the ACLU of Georgia. “Firing a woman for getting her period at work is offensive and an insult to every woman in the workplace.”
The ACLU said Coleman unexpectedly soiled an office chair with menstrual fluid in August 2015 as a symptom of premenopause. She said she reported it to her supervisor, who allegedly told her to leave the premises and change her clothing.
The union said the site manager and human resources director gave her a disciplinary write-up about two days later warning Coleman that “she would be fired if she ever soiled another chair from sudden onset menstrual flow.”
Coleman said she tried to take extra precaution to ensure the incident didn’t happen again, but she accidentally leaked menstrual flow onto the carpet when she was walking to the bathroom at work on April 22, 2016.
She said she tried to clean the stain up with bleach and disinfectant. She said the site manager directed the site supervisor to relieve her of her duties, although she was scheduled to work shifts over the weekend.
The ACLU said she received a call on April 25 in which her employer told her to report to the work on April 26. When she did, she was allegedly told that was being terminated because of her “failure to practice high standards of personal hygiene and maintain a clean, neat appearance while on duty.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, including “pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.” The case was dismissed in district court in February after it was ruled that premenopause and the associated sudden onset heavy menstruation are not protected under Title VII, according to the ACLU.
Coleman, who said she loved her job at the 911 call center, said she will continue to fight for justice.
“Every woman dreads getting period symptoms when they’re not expecting them, but I never thought I could be fired for it,” she said. “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.”
Bobby Dodd Institute is a non-profit employment agency that, according to its website, “connects people with disabilities and disadvantages to jobs and the security and purpose that work brings. The agency strives to sustain good jobs in its mission-based businesses, offering high-quality job training and helping businesses to recruit committed employees.”
According to the institute’s website, they employ more than 200 people with disabilities and veterans in social enterprises that deliver services for businesses. It staffs and operates call centers and mailrooms and provide packaging and fulfillment services, as well as janitorial and grounds maintenance services.
Lisa Kennedy, the chief advancement officer for the Bobby Dodd Institute in Atlanta, declined to comment on the allegations.
“It’s our practice not to comment on pending litigation,” Kennedy said Friday afternoon.