For anyone who menstruates, there’s often a fear that you will spill or leak menstrual fluids at work, school or anywhere you are out and about. Alisha Coleman was dealing with this while working as 911 call taker for the Bobby Dodd Institute. And she was fired.
Menstruation is a reality that carries far too much taboo and shame in our culture. Coleman is now suing her employer because she was fired for heavy menstrual flow tied to starting menopause, called premenopause or perimenopause.
As Our Bodies, Our Selves notes, “The hormonal ups and downs of perimenopause can be the cause of almost any imaginable bleeding pattern. When estrogen is lower, the uterine lining gets thinner, causing the flow to be lighter or to last fewer days. And when estrogen is high in relation to progesterone (sometimes connected with irregular ovulation), bleeding can be heavier and periods may last longer.”
This is what Coleman — along with every other woman who has gone through menopause — was dealing with at work. Twice she accidentally leaked menstrual blood while at work, and both times she made sure it was quickly cleaned up. However, Coleman was still fired over the incidents.
“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,” she said in a press release.
The ACLU of Georgia is working with Coleman. They have filed a lawsuit arguing that being fired for unexpected heavy menstrual flow is a violation of Coleman’s civil rights. Specifically they are arguing that this symptom of perimenopause is a sex-linked trait covered by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Under this law, employees should not be discriminated against “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.”
What’s even more absurd about all this is that a lower court already ruled that heavy menstruation associated with perimenopause is NOT related to pregnancy and childbirth. That’s right — according to at least one judge in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth are not related.
The ACLU, of course, is appealing, and this lawsuit will continue through the court system. I cannot fathom a judge convincing themselves that menstruation and pregnancy are not fundamentally and immutably linked.
Coleman should not have been put through this. She should not have been fired because of unexpectedly heavy menstrual flow tied to starting menopause. She acted professionally in making sure it got cleaned up, and this should have ended there.
“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,” said the ACLU of Georgia’s executive director Andrea Young.
I hope that the court system sees fit to resolve this in a respectful and sensible way.