It's sort of shocking how much period-shaming still goes on — even in 2017. For some reason, people, even women, are still totally appalled by the idea that women menstruate. This type of shame is so out of control that one woman was allegedly fired for period leaks in Georgia. In 2016, Alicia Coleman was working as a 911 call operator at the Bobby Dodd Institute in Fort Benning, Georgia, when she was allegedly fired for "experiencing two incidents of sudden onset, heavy menstrual flow, a symptom of pre-menopause," according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Coleman said in a statement 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.
But fighting back with legal action has not been easy. A local court originally dismissed her discrimination suit in February, ruling that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which is an amendment to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act doesn't cover pre-menopausal symptoms such as heavy bleeding. However, the act is intended to prohibit discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or "related medical conditions." Sounds like some people don't really understand some basic biology.
Luckily, the ACLU has taken up her cause. The organization has filed a suit with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals alongside co-counsel Buckley Beal LLP. The brief alleges that in August of 2015, she accidentally leaked onto her desk chair. She received a write-up afterwards which stated that "she would be fired if she ever soiled another chair from sudden onset menstrual flow.”
Then, in April 2016, she had sanitary pads at the office, but reportedly leaked on the carpet on her way to her bathroom, which she said she immediately cleaned with bleach and carpet cleaner. Even so, she was terminated within days for her failure to “practice high standards of personal hygiene and maintain a clean, neat appearance while on duty," according to the ACLU.
Any woman who lives in this culture of period shame can imagine how mortifying it was (even though it shouldn't have been) to have people notice a menstrual leak — let alone have it be said that you are not sanitary or clean for experiencing a leak.
Andrea Young, ACLU of Georgia executive director, said in a statement posted on the organization's website:
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.
Galen Sherwin, Senior Staff Attorney at the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU said that this was the very "essence" of discrimination based on sex, according to the same statement.
Women are only human and cannot control when and how they get their periods. It's not like we get a notice in the mail beforehand about the actual delivery date and contents of the package. It sure would make life a whole lot easier.
Setting a precedent with a lawsuit like this one is a good step, but in the meantime, our culture has to start educating men and women about menstruation. Firing a woman because of an accidental leak should be illegal and hopefully, with the help of the ACLU, Coleman's lawyers can convince a judge to see that it is discrimination — if only because menstruating and being pre-menopausal has everything to do with our gender.