The City of Florence’s settlement of a discrimination lawsuit filed by two female police officers has sent a clear signal to employers across the nation to treat pregnant employees fairly, women’s rights advocates told The Enquirer.
Florence Police Officers Lyndi Trischler and Samantha Riley became pregnant in 2014 and wanted to switch to light-duty during their pregnancies. Florence instead required both of them to take a combination of paid and unpaid leave, according to a Justice Department complaint.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the City of Florence will pay $135,000 to the officers and rewrite city policies to make new accommodations for pregnant employees and employees with disabilities.
The message is clear, said Elizbeth Gedmark, director of the southern office for the nonprofit advocacy group A Better Balance, which represented the officers.
“Employers can’t treat pregnant women differently and worse than other employees,” Gedmark said.
This was the Justice Department’s first lawsuit challenging a discriminatory light-duty policy since the Supreme Court case Young v. United Parcel Service in 2015, and also the department’s first lawsuit challenging disability-related “no restrictions” policies in the workplace, the DOJ release said.
The U.S. District Court must sign off on the settlement.
Florence leaders didn’t do anything wrong but settled to save the city money, said Jeff Mando, the attorney representing the City of Florence.
“The city decided to settle the Department of Justice Complaint to avoid the significant cost and distraction associated with protracted litigation,” Mando said.
The Young v. United Parcel Service case in 2015 changed the law for employers regarding pregnant employees, Mando said. The city’s policy in 2014 only allowed light duty for people injured on the job.
An officer who injured himself at home wouldn’t have been eligible for light duty, Mando said.
“It’s important we treat all employees fairly,” Mando said. “If you were in the yard, and you were picking up a load of bricks to build a grill and injured your back, that’s not on duty.”
Trischler and Riley could not be reached for comment.
This was Trischler’s second pregnancy, and she didn’t think her second light-duty request would be a problem since the police department gave her a desk job during her first pregnancy in December 2012.
Not so in 2014.
By April 2013, the city had changed its policy on light duty to no longer accommodate pregnancy. So, by Trischler’s second pregnancy in 2014, and despite having a high-risk pregnancy, she was denied accommodation.
After 23 weeks of pregnancy, Trischler was forced to take leave, of which a “substantial portion” was unpaid, according to the complaint.
“No woman should ever have to choose between having a family and earning a salary,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a news release. “Equally important, individuals with disabilities who need reasonable accommodations deserve an opportunity to keep their jobs.”
Gupta said the Justice Department will “continue working tirelessly” to protect pregnant women against unlawful discrimination in the workplace.
At the time the complaint was filed Florence’s police department had 64 sworn police officers, only two of whom were female: Trischler and Riley.
Once the court approves the settlement, Florence will have 30 days to draft its new policies, pending further approval. Supervisors will have to complete two hours of training on pregnancy and disability discrimination annually and the department will have to designate an employee to be an Equal Employment Opportunity Officer.
The city will also be on watch for three years if the settlement is approved. It will have to keep records on all light-duty assignments and every six months will have to file updates on its efforts to comply. It will also have to file a detailed report on any light-duty request involving pregnancy within a week of the request.
The $135,000 in compensatory damages and attorney’s fees Florence agreed to pay each officer will also restore the paid leave they were forced to use.
“Providing pregnant employees with light duty when appropriate can be a critical reasonable accommodation,” Jenny R. Yang, chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said in the release. “In 2015, the EEOC issued updated pregnancy discrimination guidance explaining that light duty policies that accommodate some workers but refuse to accommodate pregnant women may run afoul of the law.”
Trischler and Riley were represented by nonprofit advocacy organization A Better Balance and the law firm Outten & Golden LLP. They originally filed charges with the EEOC’s Cincinnati Office, which investigated the charges and referred the charges to the Justice Department.