There are many taboo subjects in society today, perhaps none more so than menstruation. People have different thoughts on the matter: women think that of their cycles as nature’s monthly torture, while some men think that menstruation can be held in or shut off like a faucet. A whole board of men believes that they have the right to control women’s rights on menstruation, despite having never gone through it themselves.
The same can be said for corporations across the country, who seem to think that menstruating women are as much of a liability as pregnant women. A lack of understanding about menstruation is just another challenge women face in the workplace. Still, the wage gap between men and women can range from a woman making 20 to 46 cents less for every dollar a man makes – as if women would ever let bleeding out of their vagina stop them from working hard.
Despite all of the flak women may face at work because of their bodies, however, it’s almost unimaginable that a woman would be fired for her body – and yet, Alisha Coleman was fired from her position at the Bobby Dodd Institute in Fort Benning, Georgia for accidentally staining a chair during a particularly nasty menstruation cycle.
“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,” says Coleman, who is working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia to fight against her unlawful termination. “I don’t want any woman to have to go through what I did, so I’m fighting back.”
Coleman’s case is currently being taken to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on the grounds of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, including things such as pregnancies, childbirth, and other related medical issues. The case had previously been dismissed in February because the district court had ruled that menstruation didn’t fall under the protection of the title.
“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,” says Galen Sherwin, the senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. She’s right – especially since an accidental period is something that can’t be predicted or controlled. Women are already ashamed enough of getting their period accidentally; there is no reason that employers should exacerbate the issue.
“Employers have no business policing women’s bodies or their menstrual cycles,” says Andrea Young, the executive director of the ACLU branch in Georgia. “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.”
Perhaps one day, enough women will be in power that the struggles of the menstrual cycle will be collectively understood, and there will be no need for cases such as Coleman’s.
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