"Getting fired for an accidental period leak was humiliating."
This happened to one Georgia woman at her workplace twice—and she claims she was fired because of it.
Alisha Coleman spent over a decade working as a 911 call taker for the Bobby Dodd Institute, a job-training agency for people with disabilities. She says she was fired in 2016 after "experiencing two incidents of sudden onset, heavy menstrual flow" while going through pre-menopause.
Alisha is now suing her former employer with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
A district court dismissed Coleman's case in February, according to The Cut, but the ACLU and co-counsel Buckley Beal LLP filed a brief with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals last week.
In the brief, they argue that periods and pre-menopause should be protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. (Per Title VII, "on the basis of sex" can include pregnancy, childbirth, and/or related medical conditions.)
Galen Sherwin, Senior Staff Attorney at the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU, explained in a statement: “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."
Alisha has said that she enjoyed her job, and can't believe what happened. “I loved my job at the 911 call center because I got to help people,” she said, according to 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.”
Georgene Huang, the CEO of women's career resource website Fairygodboss and a lawyer by training, says that the situation is worrying for anyone who menstruates or will go through menopause.
"This case strikes a nerve with me because...there are often very damaging stereotypes of what happens to women's moods or even work performance when they experience their periods (or menopause)," she says. She says that she considers this situation comparable to someone getting fired because they were pregnant (which is illegal).
Periods happen—they are very literally part of life, and it can be tricky to predict your flow.
No one should be worried that getting their period will cost them their job. Let's hope Coleman's case is a rare one.