Department wouldn’t let women work light duty, even though others could

When police officer Lyndi Trischler got pregnant with her second child, she assumed she’d request light-duty and finish out her pregnancy in a desk job, just like she did with her first child.

Unfortunately, that assumption was incorrect.

It turns out that sometime after Trischler’s first pregnancy, the police department rewrote its policy on light-duty so that pregnant women were no longer eligible. Instead of working a desk job, Trischler was forced to take leave for the most of the second half of her pregnancy. She claims that much of that leave was unpaid.

Trischler’s situation raises some important questions for pregnant employees who work in safety-sensitive jobs. Do employers have an obligation to offer light-duty jobs for pregnant workers? Is it reasonable to expect expectant mothers to just accept weeks or months of unpaid leave?

Exceptions Made for Non-Pregnant Workers

Trischler decided to fight back. She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that her employer, the City of Florence, KY, discriminated against her.

Approximately six months later, Officer Samantha Riley filed a similar complaint against the city. At the time, Trischler and Riley were the only female police officers in the Florence police department.

The EEOC referred the women’s complaints to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ sued their employer for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The DOJ argued that the city was discriminatory in changing its policies to no longer allow light duty for pregnant women.

Even though the rewritten policy forbade light duty for everyone except people who were injured on the job, the DOJ claimed that the city had made several exceptions for non-pregnant workers.

Rather than take its chances during a jury trial, the city agreed to settle the case. It has to pay the officers $135,000 in compensatory damages and attorneys’ fee. The city must also review and rewrite policies to make accommodations for pregnant woman and disabled employees, and restore the leave time the officers used during their pregnancies.

(The case discussed here is United States of America v. City of Florence, Kentucky.)

What Pregnant Workers Need to Know

Believe it or not, there are no federal laws that specifically address employers’ obligations to offer light duty to pregnant employees.

Rather, light-duty is addressed in a patchwork of laws, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, and the ADA.

Generally, coverage under these two laws requires employers to treat pregnant women and women who are temporarily disabled by pregnancy (or a pregnancy-related condition) the same way as it would other similarly situated employees.

Often, this depends on the company’s own rules about light duty, as well as how strictly those rules are adhered to.

Some states and municipalities have their own laws regarding pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Philadelphia each have their own legislation on the topic.

Contact Us for a Free Consultation

Because of the potential for so much overlap in federal, state, and local laws, it’s especially important for pregnant women to be aware of their rights on the job.

If you’ve been denied accommodations or unfairly forced to take leave because of a pregnancy, it’s a good idea to speak to a lawyer who has experience fighting for women’s rights.

Email us at murphy@phillyemploymentlawyer.com, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.