FLORENCE, Ky. – A discrimination lawsuit filed by two Florence female officers has been settled and the U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday that the City of Florence will rewrite city policies to accommodate both pregnant and disabled employees.
The outcome of the lawsuit has sent a clear signal to employers that they have to treat pregnant employees fairly, according to women’s rights advocate. “Employers can’t treat pregnant women differently and worse than other employees,” said Elizabeth Gedmark, director of the southern office for nonprofit advocacy group, A Better Balance.
According to the Justice Department, Officers Lyndi Trischler , 32, and Samantha Riley, 31, both were pregnant in 2014 and requested a light duty assignment. However, the city’s new policy allows no “light duty.” The city’s policy in 2014 only allowed light duty for people injured on the job.
Trischler, who learned that the boy she was carrying had a severe abnormality, was terrified thinking of the unpaid leave and losing health insurance. So, like Riley, she kept her usual job as long as she could.
“I was on patrol on the road until I was about five and a half months pregnant, and the equipment, the type of work we have to do, is not conducive to being pregnant,” Officer Trischler said. “Even putting the equipment on – the gun belt, the bulletproof vest – I was in a lot of pain every day.”
The two female officers charged that Florence’s policy violated two federal laws: the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in their favor and referred the case to the Justice Department.
Jeff Mando, the attorney representing the City of Florence, said that Florence leaders didn’t do anything wrong but settled the case to avoid additional cost for the city and distraction related to a prolonged legal process.
Although the settlement requires a federal judge’s approval, Florence had agreed to adopt a new policy allowing modified duty for pregnant employees and to pay a total of $135,000 in damages and lawyers’ fees to the two officers.
It was the second pregnancy for Trischler and it was very different from the first one because she was granted a light duty assignment in 2012. “No woman should ever have to choose between having a family and earning a salary,” Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement released by the department.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that an employee could take legal action for pregnancy discrimination if an employer declined to make accommodations for one but not another.
Filing a lawsuit against the city did not prevent their superiors and co-workers from giving support and encouragement, Officers Riley and Trischler said. Other officers even donated unused vacation time to augment their funds and tried to take the toughest cases while they were pregnant. “Everybody knows each other, everybody really does take care of each other, and people were excited to see my baby,” Officer Riley said. “I love my job. I love the people that I work with. This is the career that I chose, and this is what I want to do until I retire.”