Police officer claims she was unfairly denied light-duty work

Many women fear telling their employers that they’re pregnant. They may worry that they’ll be treated differently, or even that they’ll be driven off the job.

Case in point: Jennifer Panattoni, a senior patrol officer and 14-year veteran of a local police department. She’s currently suing her employer, claiming that she was unfairly forced to take leave without pay when she was five months pregnant.

Let’s take a look at what happened to Panattoni and then discuss what all women should know about their rights on the job when they’re pregnant.

The Novelty of a Female Employee

Panattoni says that she was one of three female police officers in her town, and the first to become pregnant.

As her pregnancy progressed, she claims that working regular patrols became difficult. Her bulletproof vest became tight, and the heaviness of her 25-pound duty belt was a strain on her abdomen. She asked if she could move some of the objects from her duty belt to her pockets and was told no.

Panattoni says she brought in a doctor’s note asking for modified duty. She claims that injured employees were frequently allowed to work in other positions that were less physically demanding.

The police department refused the request and placed Panattoni on unpaid leave.

Once on leave, Panattoni says she quickly exhausted her accrued sick and personal time. She then had to withdraw disability benefits from her police pension, which she will eventually have to repay.

Panattoni returned to work after her child was born, but she’s suing her employer anyway. She explains that she’d like to have another child someday and doesn’t want to have to repeat this scenario a second time.

Is Forced Leave Lawful?

Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), women may generally not be forced to take leave from their jobs as long as they are able to perform the essential tasks of their positions.

Obviously, that can be a little more complicated for women who are in physically demanding jobs.

Pregnant women may be eligible for light duty, but not always. Unfortunately, that eligibility often hinges on the employer’s existing policies for light-duty work. Pregnant women generally must be treated the same way that other similarly situated employees are treated. If the company has a no light-duty policy, that may also apply to pregnant women.

Pregnant women who qualify for coverage under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may be able to secure job accommodations, modifications, or reassignments to allow them to continue working.

If a woman is not eligible for light-duty work or a job accommodation and is no longer able to perform her regular job duties, then leave may come into play. In those cases, pregnant employees generally must be treated the same way that employers would treat temporarily disabled employees.

For example, an employer may allow temporarily disabled staffers to take unpaid leave, and then return to their regular positions within a given amount of time. Those employers generally must extend the same consideration to women who are temporarily disabled by pregnancy or related conditions, such as gestational diabetes.

If an employer does not allow leave for temporarily disabled employees, it generally does not have to allow leave for pregnant women who are temporarily unable to perform their jobs.

Get a Free Consultation Now

Pregnancy and work issues can be extremely complicated. Obviously, every woman’s circumstances are different.

If you believe that your rights under the PDA have been compromised, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney.

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